House To Take Up Internet Censorship Bill Thursday

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill intended to fight internet piracy that would allow law enforcement to block access to entire websites accused of facilitating copyright infringement.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) faces opposition from a number of tech giants, including Google and Facebook, as well as thousands of smaller online forums that fear the law could be used to shut them down.

Opponents of the bill are concerned with its implications for free speech and the future of technological innovation. If SOPA passes, it might become too risky to develop new services that allow individual users to share content.

The bill could potentially affect every-day internet users who do not infringe on copyrights. If you store your personal family photos on a photo-sharing site that another user posts copyrighted content to, the entire website could be made to disappear from the internet making all of the photos it hosted inaccessible from the U.S.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, already contains provisions against online copyright infringement while limiting the liability of providers of online services for the actions of their users. However, many in the entertainment industry do not believe it goes far enough because it can be difficult or impossible to enforce U.S. court decisions against websites that operate in other countries.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has introduced an amendment to address some of the concerns about SOPA, clarifying that it is aimed at websites hosted in foreign countries and narrowing the definitions of some other terms.

“Claims that this bill will ‘break’ the internet are unfounded. When one-quarter of internet traffic is infringing, something is already in need of repair,” Smith said.

The proposed legislation is supported by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is encouraging internet users to contact their Representatives and Senators to urge them to oppose the bill, and to take other actions to raise awareness of the issue.

If the House Judiciary Committee approves the bill, the next step for SOPA would be a vote by the full House of Representatives. It would also have to win approval in the Senate, which is considering a similar bill, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act.

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