The Internet has been called the new Wild West: there is a great deal of profit that can be made, in terms of availability of information, but there are also many hazards, due to the lack of regulation. One attempt to create a 'kinder, gentler' Internet is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The Act would create a kind of "national firewall by censoring the domain names of websites accused of hosting infringing copyrighted materials" (Losey & Meinrath 2011). Supporters of mainstream entertainment companies are strong supporters of the Act, which they hope will radically reduce the amount of pirated content available online. Copyright holders as well as the Department of Justice could 'take down' websites with an injunction, if there was evidence that the website was disseminating pirated content. If SOPA passes, it could enable the entire domain name of tumblr.com down based upon the copyright infringement of a single blog (and Tumblr hosts many, many blogs). The responsibility of website hosts would increase dramatically, and it would also be much more difficult for website venues to host various sources of content, because of the potential for their liability, should users accidentally or intentionally violate copyright laws.
The first criticism of SOPA is that it would effectively punish suspected infringers even before they received a fair hearing in court. "These shutdowns would happen before a site owner could defend himself in court -- SOPA could punish sites without even establishing whether they are guilty of the charges brought against them" (Losey & Meinrath 2011). Critics contend that the law provides no recourse for "legitimate sites that might get swept up along with the rogues" (Oremus 2011). Given that many legitimate hosting sites are run by small operators with little funding for legal counsel, SOPA could have a silencing effect upon many sites devoted to publishing legitimate materials with legitimate points-of-view. It could shut down sites, or could force site owners to engage in radical censorship of contributors, to avoid falling foul of the law.
Constitutional scholars have rallied against the law. "The law appears to disregard some of the 'safe harbor' provisions established in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has protected sites such as YouTube as long as they take down copyrighted content upon request" (Oremus 2011). Opponents of SOPA argue that this provision of the 1998 Act provides enough protection for copyright holders. SOPA, in contrast, could theoretically suspend YouTube, based upon a disgruntled copyright holder, even before the case was finally decided by a judge or jury. Proponents of SOPA state that because the law deals with intellectual property, once the material has been released to the public on the widely-seen venue of the Internet, the damage has already been done. (However, as a practical matter, some copyright violators have looked the other way when their content is illegally broadcast, because of the positive publicity it garners for the artist).
SOPA has been called censorship and in violation of the First Amendment. It also requires Internet Service Providers (ISP) s to "prevent access to infringing sites by making efforts under order to block web browser requests for flagged domain names. The prospect of domain name system (DNS) blocking and filtering has alarmed some who believe it would be intrusive and undercut the secure structure of the Internet" (Gardner 2011). In other words, not only would servers have to police those who post on their own sites, they would have to ensure that their users did not include links to domains that disseminate potentially illegal copyrighted material. Service providers are obligated to "cut off access to pirate sites" (Gardner 2011). This is one reason that Google Executive Chairman said the bill would "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself" (Gardner 2011). One of the most positive developments of the Internet has been to create connections between people through hyperlinking. If SOPA passes, it is difficult to see how links to other user's content would not be discouraged, except for major websites. Smaller websites that were unknown might not be linked to, simply because users would fear that they would be flagged for the ISP as a potential violator and linker to a private site.
One of the most controversial provisions of the Act is…