The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the related Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) have caused uproar among Internet types and inspired many websites to vow to “go black” on January 18. Some content companies claim that the bill will protect their intellectual property from theft; critics of the bill say it threatens free speech and the very nature of the internet.
Their objection is that the bill uses very broad language to describe what constitutes a violation and allows for draconian punishments. The sites we all visit every day—from Wikipedia to Facebook to YouTube to this site you’re on now—are rife with (often unintentional, and mostly harmless) violations of the proposed legislation, and under its terms could be subject to any number of severe penalties.
SOPA is a moving target; parts of it have already been rewritten and the White House has condemned “legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” But here, to answer the “what’s the big deal?” question many are asking, is an explanation of a worst-case scenario based on the original version of the bill: