What is the Stop Online Piracy Act?

This battle of copyright versus online freedom may change the Internet as we know it.

You may have heard the term "SOPA" getting thrown around these last few days. But what exactly does it mean?

The future of the Internet is at a crossroads because of SOPA and Protect IP, two controversial bills on their way through congress that may affect you. Major tech companies in Silicon Valley have come out strongly against SOPA. Gizmodo even called it a "digital Patriot Act." But Hollywood says the bill is essential in the battle against online piracy.

CNET's Declan McCullagh broke it down. Here is the key information for a quick refresher:

What's the justification for SOPA and Protect IP?
Rogue websites, many offshore, that steal and pirate American content (movies, etc.) online. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the head of the House Judiciary committee chairman, was the author of SOPA.

How would SOPA work?
Like an Internet death penalty. With a court order, the US attorney general could force a service provider like Comcast to prevent access to a website within five days.

Who supports SOPA?
The three organizations that have probably been the most vocal are the MPAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Hollywood outspent Silicon Valley by about ten-fold on lobbyists in the last two years.

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.

How is SOPA different from the earlier Senate bill called the Protect IP Act?
SOPA is broader. Protect IP targeted domain name system providers, financial companies and ad networks -- not companies that provide Internet connectivity.

What are the security-related implications of SOPA?
SOPA would require Internet providers to redirect allegedly piratical domain names to a different server, violating DNSSEC. DNSSEC is a set of security improvements to the domain name system so there is no break in the chain between a website and its user. Innocent websites could be swept up as collateral damage. The method can also be easily bypassed.

What will SOPA require Internet providers to do?
It could require Internet providers to monitor customers' traffic and block websites suspected of copyright infringement.

Are there free speech implications to SOPA?
To be blacklisted, a website must be "directed" at the U.S. and the owner has to "promote" acts that can infringe copyright. Opponents say SOPA has language that could blacklist the next YouTube, Wikipedia or WikiLeaks.

What has the response to this language been?
The Motion Picture Association of America said SOPA is perfectly constitutional. Mozilla, which makes the Firefox web browser, responded by asking its users to "Protect the Internet: Help us stop the Internet Blacklist Legislation...your favorite websites both inside and outside the US could be blocked based on an infringement claim."

Does the U.S. Congress support SOPA?
Support for Protect IP is remarkably broad, and SOPA a little less so. An analysis by the RIAA says that of some 1,900 bills that have been introduced in the Senate, only 18 other bills enjoy the same number of bipartisan cosponsors as Protect IP does.

What happens next?
In terms of Protect IP, the Senate Judiciary committee has approved it and it's waiting for a floor vote. One hurdle: Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has placed a hold on the bill. A vote on SOPA was postponed Friday, probably until sometime in early 2012. Where it goes from there is an open question that depends on where the House Republican leadership stands. Because the House's floor schedule is under the control of the majority party, the decision will largely lie in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants.

How could SOPA impact you?

What are people are saying about SOPA?

What can you do?

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