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Yahoo, Google and Facebook Lobby Against Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

Does the legislation go too far?


Online Piracy

Image © Getty Images

The name of the legislation sounds well intended - the Stop Online Piracy Act - otherwise known as SOPA H.R. 3261 . After all, who doesn't want to stop online piracy? Internet giants Google, Facebook, and Yahoo admit the legislation has laudable goals. So why are they going to such great lengths to express their extreme opposition to SOPA? The answer lies with the onus the bill puts on U.S. Internet companies, and the provider's contention that the bill would give too much power to the government in shutting down websites.

Not surprisingly SOPA is supported by content creators and owners, such as the Motion Picture Association of America, who are fierce protectors of digital copyright protections.

SOPA in the House of Representatives; Protect IP Act in the Senate

The companion bill in the Senate is called "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property." Definitely not as catchy as the House of Representative's version in long form, but it has been dubbed "Protect IP Act," which explains why it is so long. The Protect IP Act" (S.968) was prevented from moving to the floor of the Senate for a vote by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) who placed a hold on the legislation in May, 2011, after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed it.

Senator Wyden explained his reason for placing the hold:

"I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective."

What is Digital Rights Management?

SOPA Opponents Against Online Piracy But Say Bill Goes Too Far

Critics of SOPA say the House version goes even further than the Protect IP legislation does. SOPA grants the government broader power to shut down websites which are hosting copyrighted content. A group that advocates for an open Internet, Public Knowledge said that SOPA is worse than Protect IP because it lowers the threshold to who can be considered liable for IP theft. They claim that hosting companies and providers who don't do enough to prevent piracy, such as search engines, can also be held responsible for infringement. This is primarily what Google, Yahoo, and Facebook object to. Yahoo even took their opposition to a new level, by leaving the U.S Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business trade organization. The Consumer Electronics Association and Google have threatened to do the same.

Update: SOPA and PIPA Legislation Faces Setback: Mounting Opposition from Wikepedia, Google, Reddit, and Others Leads to Congressional Sponsor Withdrawal

Online Piracy is a $135 Billion Problem

There is no doubt that the problem of online piracy is huge. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that U.S. companies lose $135 billion a year in counterfeiting and piracy, primarily through illegally posted videos, music, and publications. However, the legislation is written to provide law enforcement agencies with new tools to fight websites which sell any copyright infringing products, including clothing and medicine, which not only costs U.S. companies money, but harms consumers.

Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna summed it up like this:

"The sale of counterfeit products and piracy of copyrighted content online not only undermines our nation's economy [but also] robs state and local governments of much-needed tax revenue and jobs. Even worse, some counterfeit goods can pose serious health and safety hazards to consumers. Rogue sites legislation seeks to clamp down on this scourge."

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