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SOPA Triggers Tech Sector Backlash

17 November 2011 - Features - Editor

With tech and social media companies continuing to grow in size and influence in the US economy, investors take note when companies like Google and Facebook make waves about proposed legislation affecting these market sectors. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) introduced in the House of Representatives at the end of last month, has these tech giants up in arms as they criticize the proposals for being too stringent, noting that it opens up possibilities for a host of unintended consequences. As the name of the act suggests, its intention is to deal with trademark and copyright issues by targeting foreign sites that facilitate piracy of copyrighted materials such as music, films and television shows.

While agreeing that measures to protect content are necessary, critics of the proposed legislation note that it is promoting censorship, with copyright owners having the ability to use law enforcement to shut down websites deemed to be infringing on those copyrights. The legislation reportedly also gives authority to law enforcement officials to instruct payment processors and search engines to stop providing their services to websites under investigation, a move which would directly impact on revenue sources for these services, as well as on the targeted sites.

As technology continues to advance and barriers to information, business and trade break down, lawmakers are faced with creating new legislation to address unprecedented trends. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 called for companies to remove content from their sites if they infringed on copyrights and intellectual property laws – but the new law gives copyright holders and authorities the powers to take steps to shut down a site infringing on copyright laws, not making allowances for acting “in good faith” as was previously the case.

In a formal complaint to lawmakers, a group of tech companies – Google, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Mozilla, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Twitter and Zynga – asked Congress to look at more targeted means of combatting so-called 'rogue' websites. The letter noted that the complainants supported the stated goals of the bill, but expressed the concern that SOPA would "expose law-abiding US Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities and mandates that would require monitoring of websites." Hundreds of high-traffic sites are protesting the proposed legislation by displaying "STOP CENSORSHIP" logos.

Supporters of SOPA, including the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, dismiss talk of censorship as unfounded, pointing out that online piracy leads to the loss of jobs – and with the American economy battling to recover, job losses are of great concern. Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, who is familiar with the details of the legislation, was quoted as saying that SOPA would stop "those who are engaged in criminal behavior from reaching directly into the US market".

 


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