What are SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA?

Jen Vogl, Copy Editor

On January 18, 2012, websites such as Wikipedia and Reddit “went black” in order to protest SOPA and PIPA, resulting in support being pulled from the two bills among many senators and representatives. However, while there was a lot of protest made about the bills, not many people know what the bills actually entailed and “meant” for the Internet.

SOPA and PIPA were made for the House and Senate respectively. Republican representative Lamar Smith introduced SOPA, and Democratic senator Patrick Leahy introduced PIPA. Both bills aimed to stop piracy, but their methods for counteracting illicit activity work differently.

SOPA received the most attention from protesters due to its vague definition of what constitutes a website in violation of the bill. How it would go after offending websites would be a two-step process. First, the rights holder has to contact the advertisers that serve the offending website, and then the advertisers contact the offending website. The website then has a chance to defend themselves, but if the rights holder believes that the issue has not been addressed, then they can sue.

SOPA also attacks websites that sell counterfeit drugs, military materials, and unauthorized streaming. The bill makes unauthorized streaming illegal and a felony offense.

In response to some of the critiques, there was a Manager’s Amendment to the bill that clarifies that only websites with the intent to violate copyright law can be found under violation of SOPA, and it now only refers to non-US sites. However, consideration for the bill has been indefinitely postponed.

PIPA, or the PROTECT (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft) of Intellectual Property Act, states that websites that promote piracy and other illegal activities have to be removed from internet providers and be removed from search results on sites like Google. While the infringing site would not be accessible by web address, if a person had the site’s IP address, they would still be able to access the website. Voting on this bill was also indefinitely postponed after the protest.

ACTA, however, remains on the table. Unlike SOPA and PIPA, ACTA was created by Japan and the U.S. in 2006 as an agreement between nations. Because copyright law is harder to enforce between nations, ACTA seeks to strengthen international copyright agreements and overseas piracy. As the agreement is still under development, not much is known about the content, which has led critics to demand more transparency.

Because of ACTA’s wording, it also has the potential to remove several sites from American web browsers. It is still important to look for updates on how ACTA is handled in the US, as it also has the potential to affect websites that you use and visit.