Could US legislation shut down UK sites?

A new US bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) may be the most important issue to date in the battle over just what is an acceptable level of freedom on the Internet.

It could have a profound impact on the way that the Internet works, not just for people in the US, but also UK sites which are hosted in the US.

A furious war of words has broken out between supporters and opponents of the bill. At least one leading web-hosting business that initially supported SOPA has subsequently withdrawn its support following a reported mass desertion by its clients in protest.

So here is a brief overview of SOPA to help you form your own opinion…

What is SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act)?

SOPA, which stands for Stop Online Piracy Act, was introduced in the US House of Representatives on 26th October 2011 by Lamar Smith. It expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement agencies and copyright holders to fight online piracy, content theft, and duplication of copyrighted intellectual property by to shutting down websites or changing search results that infringe copyright. The Bill It appeared to be on a fast track for approval by the US Congress, but is likely to be scaled back or jettisoned entirely as a result of the controversy that it has caused.

Who supports SOPA?

The Recording Industry Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the movie industry i.e. Hollywood. They pay a lot of money to create content and are trying to protect their revenues.

Who’s opposed to SOPA?

Many people and companies that use the Internet, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL and LinkedIn. Under SOPA they could become liable when their users infringe copyright.
Another opponent of the bill is the European Parliament that stresses the importance of “safeguarding freedom and security” for all Internet users.

What are the problems with SOPA?

1) Your favourite content site may disappear!

Sites which host user content – including the likes of YouTube, Facebook and MySpace will be forced to tighten their rules, thus restricting Internet user freedom. Some may even have to close.

2) It takes only a single complaint!
In theory at least, a single complaint from an individual or company could lead to the blocking of a major website. It would mean that any UK site that’s hosted in the US could be shutdown or blocked. The restrictions would stay in place while any investigation is carried out. Critics would prefer that sites remain available until proven of wrong-doing just like in courts of law the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty!

3) It may not work?
It has also been argued that the measures would do little to stop piracy. Any site forced to close would of course be free to re-open under a different name, leading to a potential never-ending spiral of cat and mouse.

What are the benefits of SOPA?

1) It protects livelihoods
It would help protect the right of creative professionals who earn a living from their work. These creative professionals include the musicians, authors, and software creators that we all know and love.

2) It helps shut down pirate sites
It would mean shutting down pirate web sites that infringe on the copyright of others.

3) It helps reward investment and enterprise
Helping companies reap the rewards of their investment encourages enterprise and re-investment of profits. Products and services improve. Deprived of their full rewards, investors will look elsewhere for investment opportunities. Some individuals and businesses will obviously risk bankruptcy.
So now that you have all the information, what’s your view?

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