Monthly Archives: February 2012

When The Net Went Dark: SOPA, PROTECT IP and the Birth of an Internet Movement

On October 26, 2011, House Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The bill was the House’s version of Senate Bill S.968, also known as the PROTECT IP Act, which was introduced on May 12, 2011 by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The stated purpose behind both bills was to provide increased protection for U.S. copyright owners against foreign websites that broadcast infringing content. Both bills were supported in large part by the recording and motion picture associations, but received harsh criticism from dozens of digital rights advocacy groups, technology companies, and media commentators. This criticism eventually lead to a worldwide day of protest on the Internet, with sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit shut-down operations and called upon users to contact their representatives to voice their opposition towards the bills. After receiving an unprecedented amount of calls and emails from their constituents, numerous supporters of the bills dropped their endorsements. As a result, both bills have subsequently been permanently stalled. The blackout campaign and the ensuing activist effort by Internet users may represent a key turning point in debates of the future of copyright legislation and reform. Commentators have noted that the very strong showing of public support suggests that while copyright law “was historically seen a technical system of rules” whose reach “only influenc[ed] the content industry,” the permeation of technology into the everyday lives of citizens has thrust the issue to the forefront of public consciousness.

Background Analysis of the Acts

Overview of the PROTECT IP Act (“PIPA”)

Following an earlier stalled attempt at passing similar legislation, on May 12, 2011, Senator Leahy introduced the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (the PROTECT IP Act or “PIPA”).

The Act contained language that would authorize the Attorney General to initiate a civil forfeiture proceeding against a nondomestic domain name that is used in the U.S. and is associated with an Internet website “dedicated to infringing activities.” Continue reading

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