Will the Stop Online Piracy Act stop the Internet?

SOPA would block access to websites that feature or distribute copyrighted content without permission. But what are the real costs of online piracy?

If you listen to this show regularly, you've probably heard us mention the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. The proposed law would basically block access to websites that feature or distribute copyrighted content without permission.

CNET reporter Declan McCullagh says it could work like this: "If you upload photos to a website and then that website is accused of violating U.S. copyright law, maybe just a few pages on the website or 2 percent of that website violates copyright law. Then the entire website will be taken offline and rendered inaccessible and you wouldn't be able to get those family photos they could well be lost." The possibility, he says, creates free speech concerns.

Hollywood loves the rule. The Internet community hates it. Reddit.com, which is a website where users post stories and then comment, says it'll black-out its site on Jan. 18th to protest the legislation. Wikipedia is considering doing the same.

Stanford University law professor Mark Lemley says, these sites are doing it to bring public awareness to the problem. "The risk that a site like Reddit is going to be shut down or blocked is probably pretty small," he says, "but I think they have quite admirably recognized that protecting internet means protecting the whole Internet."

CNET's McCullagh says Reddit.com shutting down for a day is one thing; many of its readers are already involved in fighting SOPA. But if Wikipedia goes dark, he says, "that's going to be a pretty big deal. It's one of the most visited sites on the Internet." MuCullagh reported last month that major sites could go dark as well. "Imagine if Google, Facebook and EBay turned their home pages turned black" he says. "That would be a powerful force. It's never been done before in history of the Internet." 

Also on today's show: Why Mahler and marimba don't mix. Not that most people think they would. Except one guy. Whose ringtone forced the New York Philharmonic to pause.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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