SOPA is a bill that was proposed by Republican U.S. Representative Lamar Smith in late October, aimed at stopping the practice of illegally distributing copyrighted goods and files. Under the provisions of the bill, the government would be able to take down any websites that “engage in, enable, or facilitate” copyright infringement. This could apply not only to sites that host illegal content, but also other sites that link to them, users who stream illegal content (this would be considered a felony by the bill), etc… Courts could stop companies from doing business with these blocked sites, and could also block them from search engines and even Internet service providers. The Protect IP Act (PIPA) is another bill with a similar purpose, so it is often grouped with SOPA in discussions.
Since its inception in October, the SOPA bill has met a lot of criticism from people who claim that it could destroy the freedom of the internet. To many, SOPA is seen as an infringement on First Amendment rights that could potentially destroy any given site, because the terms of the bill are so general and non-specific. In protest, Wikipedia and thousands of other websites “blacked out” for 24 hours on January 18. Users who attempted to connect to Wikipedia were redirected to a page on the SOPA blackout. An application on the page allowed users to look up their state representatives and urge them not to support SOPA.
The popular search engine Google did not take part in the blackout, but instead hosted a petition to Congress against the bill. The home page featured a Google logo that was “censored” (covered with a black rectangle). Clicking on the logo redirected users to the online petition page. According to a Google spokesperson, 4.5 million people signed the petition.
On January 19th, federal authorities announced that they had taken down the website Megaupload, as well as arrested 7 people, in connection with an online piracy case. The seven people were charged with causing more than $500 million in damages by distributing copyrighted content, including movies, TV shows, music, e-books and software. Soon after the report, the online group Anonymous launched an attack on various websites supporting the SOPA bill, including the Justice Department site, Universal Music, and other music and film industry sites. The sites went back up soon afterward.
In response to the SOPA blackout protest, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided to postpone the Senate vote on the PIPA bill that was supposed to take place on Tuesday.