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Investigation & Surveillance

The Internets Largest Online Protest – America’s Congress try to implement The Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) Act and faces worldwide criticism.

Wednesday the 18th January marked the largest online protest in the history of the Internet.

Many large and small websites had a blackout in protest of the proposed legislation.

This is why there is even more reason to pay attention to the Houses, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senates corresponding Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA)

Those that have come out in protest include Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Wikipedia and many others.

Internet users were greeted with the following message from the English language section of Wikipedia during the protest blackout:

“Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge – For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history.  Right now, the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet”.

Those in favour of SOPA include major media companies such as Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Universal Music, and Warner Music etc.

SOPA & PIPA themselves are pretty similar however there is one main difference that is, SOPA includes a provision which makes it illegal to stream unauthorised copyrighted content.

Both of these acts are designed to overcome the issue of foreign-based websites that sell pirate movies, music and other products.

SOPA has been nicknamed the ‘Free Bieber’ provision due to the teenage singer Justin Bieber who became famous after posting videos of himself singing other stars songs on YouTube.

SOPA would allow copyright holders to complain to the US attorney general about a foreign website that is said to be ‘committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations’ of copyright law.  This relates mostly to pirated movies and music.

Websites such as YouTube would be greatly affected and it has been said that they could be potentially shut down if the law was to pass.

It would take just one of its millions of users to be accused of violating one US copyright to enforce a complete shut down of the site.  The bill would make illegal the streaming of such content, with a maximum penalty predicted at five years imprisonment.

SOPA would allow the movie industry, via the courts and the US attorney general to send request that internet service providers (ISP’s) and search engine companies shut down access to those accused of copyright and even to prevent any linking to those sites.

This would then mean that a site could not be found again on a search engine. It would also bar Internet advertising providers from making payment to websites previously accused of copyright violations.

These acts were written well intentionally however unfortunately it could cause serious damage to the free flow of information on the Internet.  This has in turn caused uproar worldwide.

There are many hoops that this planned legislation will have to jump though for it to be implemented. If both houses of Congress pass the bill it is then passed to President Barack Obama to make the final choice.

Further debate regarding SOPA is apparently set for February with no official date released as yet. PIPA is set for vote by the Senate floor on 24th Jan.

It will be interesting to see if these two Acts are passed and if they do go into force. What impact will it have on our freedom of information via the Internet? Will it lead to closure of some of the biggest Internet search engines?