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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What is SOPA?

In case you haven't heard, the House of Representatives will have a public hearing today on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). You can view details about the hearing on the House's website. Content industries support the bill; internet companies like Facebook and Google oppose it. 

So what is SOPA? The bill would allow content owners, say a movie studio, to quickly take down websites that host or link to pirated materials. Supporters of the bill claim that they need the ability to respond quickly to the proliferation of pirated material online. Opponents claim that the bill leaves too much control and discretion in the hands of these content producers and would deny websites due process. In fact, one group is declaring today (November 16th) American Censorship Day.

The issues raised by SOPA and the controversy its causing  highlight how the internet is an incredible force for disruption and change, altering everything from the way we read books, get daily news, and watch television. Amidst all of this change, legal structures and processes to deal with our new online life often struggle to keep up. 

A good example is the issue of online piracy. People quickly learned how easily digital copies of music files, for instance, could be made and shared. According to the Recording Industry of Association of America, however, this simple act of copying and sharing has cost content industries billions of dollars. Of course, many people argue that the RIAA's number don't add up and that, in fact, online piracy is on the decline.

The implications of a bill like this are unclear for libraries. Several prominent organizations that represent libraries and librarians have written a letter opposing the bill (pdf).

Regardless of the outcome of this bill, it certainly is interesting to watch as our social and legal structures try to keep pace with technology and innovation.

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