The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives ostensibly to curb piracy, has been at the receiving end of severe backlash from Internet companies including Google and Wikipedia.
The widespread disapproval of the proposed bill, which has forced several high traffic sites including Wikipedia and Reddit to shut down their sites in protest, stems from its potential to restrain Internet freedom and free speech.
This is SOPA simplified:
1. Sample Scenario - Warner Bros. knows that BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay is hosting illegal torrents of the movie The Dark Knight. Without SOPA, the movie production company wouldn't have been able to do anything about it, simply because The Pirate Bay has its servers in Sweden, a country relatively soft in its approach to online piracy.
However, under SOPA, U.S. law enforcement officials and copyright holders will be equipped to serve a notice to Google (to stop showing up The Pirate Bay in search results), to PayPal (to freeze the site's finances), to advertisers (to have their ads pulled from the site), before serving the death blow in the form of a notice to its Internet Service provider (ISP) to block the site, completely preventing access.
Gist - Potentially any site can meet with the exact same fate as that of WikiLeaks.
2. Scary Part - Even if a site is hosting completely legal content, it can be served copyright infringement notices under SOPA, claiming a good faith belief that the target site has infringed copyright. In an earlier version of the bill, the target site, Google, PayPal or the ISP had just five days to respond to the notice, either by taking down a portion of the site or by appealing in a U.S. court. However, now the 5-day clause has been softened, allowing any one to serve copyright notice, even a rival company, for the sole purpose of hurting its competitors.
Come to think of it, blocking the targeted portion or whole of a site is the easier option for third parties like Google or PayPal or the ISP, compared to fighting the case in a U.S. court. If you happen to own a relatively smaller Web site - one that is gaining in popularity - or happen to say something politically unpalatable but have limited finances and support, a court case involving Internet giants will be the end of the story.
Gist - Even legal and political Web sites, controversial forums and business portals can be blocked or blacklisted if they do not possess resources enough for a prolonged legal battle.
3. Scariest Part - Cloud service providers like Amazon, content hosting services like YouTube and Internet finance services like PayPal can turn law enforcers, which means they don't really need a letter from the copyright owner to shut down a site.
Why would they do that?
By voluntarily shutting down supported sites, these web giants can enjoy immunity under SOPA for being proactive.
As of now, Google or PayPal don't have a tool to detect whether the supported content is infringing copyright. However, if someone, say, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), decides to publish a list of infringing sites, Google or PayPal won't have to wait to shut them down, even if no single site is specifically targeted.
Gist - Under SOPA, web service providers can turn Web site killers just to keep themselves out of trouble.
4. Unpredictability - Under SOPA, this article could be targeted because it is essentially against the legislation and has words like The Pirate Bay. SOPA can target sites which tell people how to circumvent the law. If you remember annoying messages on YouTube like This video has been removed, be prepared to see that a lot more often, not just on YouTube but almost everywhere.
If you are not going to be extremely careful of the content you handle over the Internet, you may see your Facebook or Twitter accounts or YouTube channel removed, because you happened to upload or share pirated content.
Gist - Your day will get more annoying with This Is Blocked messages.
5. RIP Internet, Almost - This may sound a bit extreme. However, it is almost certain that a good portion of the fun we now enjoy over the Internet will no longer be available under SOPA. No free movies, songs, games, software, streaming, videos, sharing and almost no free thinking - If this isn't the death of Internet what is?