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A Quick Primer on SOPA and PIPA

You may have noticed that many web sites like Wikipedia, WordPress, and Google were inaccessible and/or looking super weird with blacked out rectangles everywhere on Wednesday. In case you don’t know why, here’s a quick rundown on the two bills that caused those sites to shutdown in protest, as well as where things stand now.

What is SOPA?

The Stop Online Piracy Act is an anti-piracy bill being considered in the House of Representatives. In a nutshell, SOPA aims to target foreign websites that make copyrighted content widely available to the masses (read: movies made by big studios and music albums produced by large recording labels). These are download spots like Pirate Bay or Megaupload, or streaming sites like Cuevana. Also important to know is that SOPA has a sister act being considered in the Senate called PIPA, or the Protect IP Act.

What’s the big deal?

It’s a complicated issue but broadly, if SOPA passes, it would allow censorship of any site deemed as passing along copyrighted content. It would also allow the companies that own movies, music, and intellectual property (think Warner Bros. or Sony) to sue places like Google, Facebook, and smaller blogs that link to those infringing sites. For a search engine like Google, it would mean de-listing any flagged site entirely, so it wouldn’t show up even if you searched for it. It would also force payment companies like PayPal or Visa to cut off funding to an offending site and—scariest of all—it would potentially blacklist them so you wouldn’t be able to access their URL whatsoever. No money, no traffic, no more website.

Okay, so, no more free movies. Bummer. Why is everyone freaking out?

The great fear is that this bill would give the entertainment industry far too much censorship power. Essentially, who’s to say what would be deemed a piracy site and what would be a place for viewing pleasure? Protestors of SOPA point to the possibility that a site like YouTube, with its plethora of questionably sourced videos, or a Facebook, where users post links and equally sketchily-sourced content, could be called out as culprits. (Sliding further down that slippery slope, that would mean it’d be possible that even Birchbox could get called out if we happen to link to videos, or music, that are owned by a big company.)

O.M.G.! What’s happening with the bills now? Let’s save the internet!

Thankfully, after Wiki, Google and everyone else staged their protests on Wednesday, many congressional backers of SOPA and PIPA have either stepped down or are seriously reconsidering their position. Even better, the bills have been stalled so that language and points in the bills can be further discussed and clarified before they’re put up for a vote. As it stands now, it’s highly unlikely SOPA or PIPA would become laws in their current form.

If you’re curious to learn more, or you’re feeling up in arms, don’t run out and yell at everyone just yet! Our best recommendation is to do further reading, because it’s a tough issue to sink your teeth into without learning about it first. Check out these other great sources of info on what the bills are and what’s going on now:

The New York Times

Read the SOPA bill at The Wall Street Journal

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UPDATE: Following the protests on Wednesday, and the outcry that came with them, SOPA’s original sponsor, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-Tex), has pulled the bill from the House until “there is wider agreement on a solution.”

PIPA has also been put on hold, too. This morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that he is post-poning the vote originally set to take place next Tuesday, as “there is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved.” 

Read more about the developments here.

—Candice

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