The Web was abuzz last month with talk of the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Most people were probably aware that sites like Wikipedia and Reddit blacked out in protest on January 18th but what is SOPA and why should it matter to the average American? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stop online piracy, right? It depends.
U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) authored SOPA and introduced it to the House in October 2011. (The bill’s complete title is “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes” -H.R. 3261.) While protecting ideas that belong to the States from plagiarism by people outside the U.S. jurisdiction certainly sounds like a noble cause, dealing with the Web is a tricky demographic: If SOPA comes into effect, the U.S. Department of Justice will be able to seek court orders against sites generated in foreign countries that they believe are violating copyright laws and American sites would no longer even be allowed to conduct business with or be linked to these sites.
The Motion Picture Association of America is a proponent of the bill, citing protection of creative ideas. Other supporters of SOPA say that it will help the pharmaceutical industry in America by preventing counterfeit drugs from being shipped in inexpensively from other countries. Opponents of the bill fear that their First Amendment rights are being encroached upon, as user-generated sites would likely feel the biggest sting. If a small minority of users violated copyright laws, would sites like YouTube or Flickr be shut down for everyone?
Two days after the online blackout/protest, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) announced that the decision to consider SOPA was being postponed due to the negative response from the sites who protested and the citizens who supported them for doing so. Is this the last we will hear of SOPA or is it set to be an ongoing battle? And finally, how would SOPA affect college students? While most professors don’t consider Wikipedia to be a valid source of information to cite on a research paper, it does give students a good overview of a topic and provide valuable links to scholarly websites that would be good resources. Social networking sites could be affected, too...need I say more? SOPA is not just talk that will stay on Capitol Hill – it could potentially change the way Americans use (or don’t use) the Internet forever.
This summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree. She is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.