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At this point many of you may have heard about SOPA  (Stop Online Privacy Act) and may have thought that unless you needed to use Wikipedia yesterday that you should not care. That is actually not true.  I wanted to take the time to give you a high level understanding of what SOPA is and how it can affect you. gives good high level overview of the what the act would do so I’m going to use that to start.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Now before the House Judiciary Committee, it builds on the similar PRO-IP Act of 2008 and the corresponding Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act. The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such…

Source: stop online piracy act on Freebase, licensed under CC-BY

You still may be saying “so what,” but here are a few real life issues you should think about. According to the act:

An Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ if [a portion of the site is US-directed] and is used by users within the United States and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates [copyright violation or circumvention of copyright protection measures].

What this is means is that any site that that allow users to post content that could enable copyright infringement could be shut down. Here are a few examples that could effect your  everyday life: YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia and Gmail. The current proposal makes little distinction and leaves it open to almost any interpretation the government wants to take to determine almost any site is in violation.

What happens if you are accused of  copyright infringement under this new law? Again, I could paraphrase but this text explains it best. Section 201(b)(1) expands criminal copyright infringement to include:

…At least 10 copies or phonorecords, or of at least 10 public performances by means of digital transmission, of 1 or more copyrighted works, during any 180-day period, which have a total retail value of more than $2,500.

Now, the way that the value of a work can be computed in court is the very crude (value of the work times number of views).

…Total retail value may be shown by evidence of the total retail price that persons receiving the reproductions, distributions, or public performances constituting the offense would have paid to receive such reproductions, distributions, or public performances lawfully.

This means, for example, if you upload a video to YouTube of you singing a popular song, and that song might sell for $1, and your video gets 2,500 views, you are guilty of felony copyright infringement. Furthermore, you can tack on “willful infringement for commercial gain or valued at more than $1,000.”

This would make you a felon, and if a copyright holder were to bring a suit against you, would give you a criminal record that would make it virtually impossible to gain future employment, and may subject you to up to three years in prison for singing a song. You don’t have to receive any money. You don’t have to gain anything from your video. Simply receiving 2,500 views on a song you sung, which happens to have copyright held by someone else, makes you a felon.

Now do you see why you should be concerned? This is why many sites were “blacked out” yesterday in protest because this poorly written law could impact how we use the Internet today.

So we should stay close to this issue and show our voice by reaching out to our local congressman and letting them know that you don’t want any bills that limit how you can use the internet because the internet offers a great platform of expression for us.