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Pressure grows to US Congress's controversial SOPA bill

A bill being put through the House of Representatives has been roundly attacked over its wide-ranging plans to stop piracy.

Opponents of the 'SOPA' proposals fear that the Bill would give the US the power to block access to sites like YouTube, simply because they make it possible to share copyrighted material.
Opponents of the 'SOPA' proposals fear that the Bill would give the US the power to block access to sites like YouTube, simply because they make it possible to share copyrighted material.
Image: Steve White/The Canadian Press

PRESSURE IS GROWING in the United States – and worldwide – to a controversial anti-piracy Bill which its opponents argue would give the US similar censorship powers for online content as are used in China.

The ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ – better known by its acronym SOPA – is currently before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, and is likely to be passed by that committee when a vote is held after the winter recess.

Though the Bill intends to allow copyright holders to fight the infringement of their intellectual property, its proposed powers – which include the potential to block access to sites which host copyright-infringed content – have met with widespread opposition fr0m figures from Google, Yahoo and Twitter.

The Bill’s provisions would allow the Department of Justice to seek court orders blocking access to websites which facilitate copyright infringement – potentially including the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, which could be used to upload and share the material of others.

Controversially, the Bill could also remove the so-called ‘safe harbour’ clause – whereby websites can defend themselves by arguing they were unaware of a user’s motive.

In opposition to the Bill, over a dozen Silicon Valley executives and founders wrote an open letter saying that while SOPA – and its Senate counterpart the ‘PROTECT IP’ Act – are “well-meaning”, they undermined a climate which promoted innovation online.

The legislation, they said, would “require web services, like the ones we helped found, to monitor what users link to, or upload. This would have a chilling effect on innovation.”

They also said it would change “the basic structure of the internet” and would give the US “the power to censor the web using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran”.

Supporters of the Bill have insisted that its effect will not be as dramatic as has been suggested.

An aide to its sponsor, Texan Republican Lamar Smith, said sites that host user content “like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter – have nothing to be concerned about under this legislation”.

The aide added that the purpose of the Bill was simply to target sites which were dedicated to illegal activity or the sharing of copyrighted works, like The Pirate Bay.

Government set to legislate against illegal downloading next month

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Gavan Reilly

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