The United States of America officials are proposing laws to protect media companies and content producers from being ‘stolen’ through the Internet. These laws are being called SOPA (Short for Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act).
Big Internet companies and a lot of other people are protesting against this. Some are saying the laws will be more harmful to the internet than beneficial, many others are saying this will also limit innovation and job creation and many feel that the spirit of Free internet, free speech and social media will be compromised because of these laws. Big Debate.
Let’s understand this first:
You love watching your favourite TV series. You love listening to your favourite music artists and reading your favourite Thea Stilton stories. You can say these are all ‘Content’ pieces. When you read a story or watch a movie or listen to a song- you are ‘consuming’ content. All good till here? Great- so read on.
These stories, music and TV programmes are created by some companies and people.
As examples: Harry Potter stories are written by the imagination of JK Rowling, a British novelist; Justin Beiber used his singing ‘skills’ to sing songs like “Never say never” and programmes like Mickey Mouse clubhouse are produced by “Walt Disney Television Animation” company- which you watch in your living room and enjoy.
All of the above are “Intellectual property”.
What is intellectual property? Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.
So if you created a song or a story, you will have own the Intellectual Property to that song or story. If someone tries to pass that song or story as their own, that would be lawfully wrong.
Now, just like the old times in the sea- when Pirates looted ships of their property, in the new times, some people can ‘steal’ content from others who have the Intellectual property. This act is called “Online Piracy” or “Internet Piracy”.
This is also because companies and creative people earn money by selling content which is their Intellectual property.
The other point of view: However, the internet has changed the way people consume content. It has allowed people to discover, share and create content like never before.
Internet users have always wanted old media companies to change the way they work and create new ways to distribute their content.
Got it? Then here’s the news
The proposed laws of SOPA and PIPA, are said to be designed to attack online piracy, with particular emphasis on illegal copies of films and other forms of media hosted on foreign servers.
If agreed by ministers and law makers, these laws could be problematic for most internet companies: Search engines like Google or the Online Encyclopedia- Wikipedia and most other sites that allow people to share content to take actions against any kind of content that might be deemed harmful to Intellectual property owners.
The bills propose that anyone found guilty of streaming copyrighted content without permission 10 or more times within six months should face up to five years in jail.
So potentially even if Google has one link to a site offering illegal content, Or Wikipedia has links to external sites that promote use of copyrighted material- they could be asked to shut down. Similarly for Facebook or YouTube or any other site.
Big internet companies like Google and Wikipedia are protesting and the general publics are not happy either. To them these laws will actually curb the freedom that the Internet offers the common people. The Freedom to share information, curb innovation, lead to job losses (because many companies might shut down and people working there might lose their jobs)
In protest, Wikipedia made its English language content unavailable, on 18th January for 24 hours- replaced with a warning: “Right now, the US congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet”.
Along the same lines- Visitors to Reddit.com found the site offline in protest this week and Google’s homepage had a black swatch covering the search engine’s label.
PIPA is going to be proposed on 24 January- in the US Parliament.
Supporters of the bills include television networks, music publishers, movie industry bodies, book publishers and manufacturers.
Critics include Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo, eBay, LinkedIn, AOL and Zynga.
That’s all for now- there’s enough in the links within this article to let you know more and explore more on this issue if you are interested.
Update: On January 20th, 2012 it was reported that both SOPA and PIPA have been shelved, and “no further action” will be taken until a general consensus has been made, and compromises sought.
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