SOPA and PIPA: What the Layman and the Learned should know

March 20th, 201210:30 pm @    


SOPA and PIPA is all the rage in Internet these days. You must have come across them at least once in a while. Even for a newbie, it was hard to miss because some of the biggest and the most popular websites showed their protest by blacking out their websites for a whole day. Yes, I am talking about the big players like Wikipedia, who has and still continues to save our butt when it comes to a last minute assignment and megaupload, who had its fair share of  limelight providing all kinds of downloads. Not to mention the 1000s of other websites that joined them.

In this article, I’ll state the legal provisions and then break away the intricate details to make it comprehensible for a layman. I’ll state its effects and future implications to an average Internet User.

SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, and is a bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives October 26, 2011. SOPA is the successor of the PRO-IP Act of 2008.

PIPA stands for the Protect IP Act, and was first introduced to the U.S. Senate on May 12, 2011.

How is India affected by SOPA and PIPA?

Well, for a layman, it could mean that

  • Social Networking Sites like The facebook, Youtube etc. could cease to function.
  • The issue of royalty gets real big. For instance if your child sings a song of a famous record company and you upload it on Youtube(if it still exists),you and your family could face legal action.
  • A lot of blogs could be shut down if it’s found to violate any copyright laws.
  • A lot of innovative ideas will be shelved.

For one who dabs in technical jargon,

We already have laws to protect copyrighted material like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
The thing to notice is that DMCA Act removes specific and unauthorized content from websites, the SOPA and PIPA Act targets sites that host this unauthorized content. It includes and specifically targets uploading hosts and similar websites.

In Simpler terms, under DCMA Act, a file could be removed from a website but now, under SOPA and PIPA, the whole website itself could be held liable.

Megaupload has been forced to shut down and legal action has been taken against its owner and its domain names seized. The next major player to follow was Filesonic who ’ played a safe hand’ and added a nifty feature that makes sure that only you can download stuff you uploaded.

A bit of history: You might remember Napster, which was THE big thing in the late 1990s when it introduced sharing music files, but was forced to shut down in 2001.

Criticism of SOPA and PIPA

Many reasons were cited for it’s criticism. Some of the keystones in that argument are:

  • It was cited to be unconstitutional. This was because SOPA and PIPA follows ‘ex parte’, [1] proceedings which in plain English means that both the parties need not be present. The plaintiff can give evidence and the action can be taken against the defendant without even notifying him.
  • Another reason for it’s failure was its very ‘murky’ nature. It was vague regarding the definition of ‘an infringing site’.
  • Another major reason is the support against SOPA and PIPA by the people. What happened was that the U.S Citizens filed an online petition against the Acts while others were asked to call up their elected leaders and raise your concerns

  Its present situation is that it got shelved, for now. The more controversial items have been removed, but it waits to see the effects it’s going to have on future legislations. This might very well be the ‘beginning of the end’ of the internet as we know it.


[1]. Latin: ‘By or for one party’ or ‘by one side.’

Article by

Atul.V.Mohan is currently pursuing B.A.LLB (Hons) at National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi. He loves reading, writing, listening music and travelling.

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