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IDG News Service - The Stop Online Piracy Act, the subject of a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Wednesday, has generated heated debate since lawmakers introduced it on Oct. 26.
The bill, called SOPA, would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks, payment processors and other organizations to stop payments to websites and Web-based services accused of copyright infringement.
Supporters of SOPA argue that U.S. law enforcement officials need new tools to fight websites, particularly foreign sites, that sell infringing products, including music, movies, clothing and medicine. Some infringing products are dangerous; others cost U.S. companies billions of dollars a year, supporters say.
Current copyright enforcement laws in the U.S. have little effect on hundreds of foreign websites that sell counterfeit products or pirated music and movies, SOPA supporters say. While U.S. law enforcement officials can shut down infringing sites in the U.S., they generally can't reach foreign sites, supporters say.
"The sale of counterfeit products and piracy of copyrighted content online not only undermines our nation's economy [but also] robs state and local governments of much-needed tax revenue and jobs," Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna said in a statement released Wednesday. "Even worse, some counterfeit goods can pose serious health and safety hazards to consumers. Rogue sites legislation seeks to clamp down on this scourge."
Opponents of the bill argue it would empower litigious copyright holders to seek court orders targeting many legitimate websites, including sites with user-generated content such as Twitter and YouTube. The legislation would overturn the notice-and-takedown process in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and would slow U.S. technology innovation, with new Web-based services likely targeted by copyright holders, critics say.
SOPA would lead to censorship of legitimate websites and protected free speech on sites that may contain some infringing content, critics say. The bill is inconsistent with the U.S. Department of State's push for Internet freedom worldwide, they say.
"This is a bill that would eviscerate the predictable legal environment created by the DMCA, subjecting online innovators to a new era of uncertainty and risk," said David Sohn, senior policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "It would force pervasive scrutiny and surveillance of Internet users' online activities. It would chill the growth of social media and conscript every online platform into a new role as content police."
What's in the bill?
SOPA, introduced Oct. 26, would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders to stop online ad networks and payment processors from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
The DOJ-requested court orders could also bar search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites and order domain name registrars to take down the websites and Internet service providers to block subscriber access to the sites accused of infringing.