Key Facts About US Online Piracy Bills SOPA and PIPA

By Malathi Nayak and Sarah McBride | January 19, 2012

The House of Representative’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act have generated fierce opposition within the technology community. Here are some facts about the bills:

What would SOPA and PIPA do?

** The legislation, known as SOPA in the U.S. House of Representatives and PIPA in the Senate, would use court orders to curb access to foreign websites “dedicated to theft” through techniques such as disabling links to those sites.

** They also cut off U.S.-based payments processing for those overseas websites that traffic in stolen content or counterfeit goods. Why do copyright holders say the law is needed?

** Entertainment companies and other copyright holders say many legal copyright remedies aren’t effective against big foreign sites such as PirateBay. They say the bills will help curb online piracy that they claim costs them billions of dollars a year. Technology companies say they too oppose such piracy but argue that the proposed laws go too far. What is the current status of the bills?

** The White House weighed in on Jan. 14 with objections to the legislation, particularly a provision that would have required Internet service providers such as a Verizon Communications and Comcast Corp to cut off access to infringing sites through a technology known as DNS blocking.

In the days before the White House statement, backers of both bills had said they planned to move away from those provisions. The Senate bill is scheduled for a vote on Jan. 24, although some supporters of the bill have asked to postpone that vote. The House bill is still before the Judiciary Committee. Why do technology companies oppose the bills?

** Technology companies say the legislation would undermine an existing law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its “safe harbor” provisions for websites and others that act in good faith in their handling of third-party content on their sites. Content companies say the bills simply fill gaps in the DMCA and wouldn’t affect the safe harbor provisions.

** Technology companies express concerns that the legislation would encourage frivolous litigation. Content companies believe the difficulty of squeezing large payments out of illegal overseas sites would discourage frivolous litigation.

** Technology companies say users would circumvent new restrictions and piracy would still occur. Content companies say the law would create important tools for fighting piracy.

** Technology companies worry they would have to police their services for links to overseas pirated content. Content companies say the technology companies would have to act only if notified.

** Technology companies say part of the House legislation encourages providers to act against foreign sites on their own initiative by providing immunity from liability, which could lead to overaggressive actions against foreign sites. Content companies say that sites that act against pirates in good faith and with evidence to back up their actions shouldn’t have to worry about lawsuits.

** Technology companies say there is no due process for overseas sites that are accused of piracy. Content companies say normal due process applies.

(Reporting By Sarah McBride; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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