Photo: Lamar Smith
The Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation being debated in Congress has the potential to destroy the internet as we have come to know it.If passed, SOPA would require internet providers to block access to sites in other countries hosting stolen intellectual property (IP) from the U.S. It also puts any site that contains even an accidental link to a protected IP at risk for legal action.
Stolen IP is a very broad, and vague term. It covers pirated software and movies, but it could also include artwork that’s been uploaded, or counterfeit handbags being sold on the web.
Most of our favourite sites rely on user generated content and links to sites that might have protected IP on them. This means that some of your favourite websites may cease to exist.
Which sites? We asked stop censorship advocacy groups like the Free Software Foundation, the Electronics Frontier Foundation and The Participatory Politics Foundation for answers and this is what they told us.
Please note: This is NOT a comprehensive list.
Reddit is one of the biggest, and most popular message boards/aggregation sites on the internet. It's a forum for linking to content and commenting on content, and it's all user generated. As a result, some users are going to post content that they don't have rights to from time to time for people to talk about. Some users are going to link to content hosted on sites that don't have the rights for that content. Both of those are big no-nos for SOPA.
The virtual artist platform, deviantART attracts 45 million unique visitors per month. The site allows emerging and established artists of all kinds to exhibit, promote, and share their work on the web.
This site makes the list because it will impact the type of art that may be uploaded and shared on the site. If an artist infringes upon a copyrighted work, both the artist and the site may be subject to legal action. This means deviantART will also have to closely censor what is uploaded on the site.
The virtual auction house and e-commerce site makes this list because of sellers who use the site as a tool to distribute counterfeit merchandise. eBay has gotten into trouble in the past for harboring counterfeit and copyrighted goods. The site does discourage selling these types of items with policies on IP that are based by country and state laws.
Similar to eBay, Amazon could be exposed to additional legal problems due to sellers who attempt to distribute counterfeit goods.
Etsy is a virtual marketplace that allows users to buy and sell handmade or vintage items, art, and supplies.
Etsy faces risk from SOPA because it is not going to be easy for the site to monitor the over 800,000 active 'shops' filled with handmade goods that they have. If an IP holder claims to be harmed by any activity on the site, Etsy could be forced to suspend their service. That would harm all of the vendors on the site and not just those accused of IP theft.
While YouTube actively monitors its content and is mostly known for user generated short video clips, it is still at risk. Copyrighted works found on the site by an IP holder could mean a suspension of service and the bill will further censor the kinds of content the YouTube community can upload. YouTube ranks third globally and in the U.S.
Facebook makes this list because if a user shares a link to a copyrighted work or to a site that is accused of infringing IP, Facebook could be held liable as well. SOPA will likely force Facebook to further monitor and censor its users.
Over 70 million people around the world use WordPress as a tool to publish their blog. WordPress faces risk by SOPA because the bill could push the site to further monitor and also censor the bloggers, which will not be easy or cheap considering there are so many blogs that publish posts daily. If a WordPress site is accused of violating IP protected works or a commenter links to a copyrighted work, that could potentially shut down all of the blogs hosted on the site.
Over 40 million people use Tumblr, a free blog hosting platform, to share photos, poems, posts, and other creative content. However, Tumblr faces the same threat as WordPress. If a blogger or commenter uploads or links to copyrighted works, then Tumblr and its users could be at risk.
Vimeo, a video sharing website, has a reputation for being the place where aspiring cinematographers and other creative types in the video and film industry upload their original work. However, given the user generated nature of the site, Vimeo still faces risk from users who include even a portion of copyrighted material in their film.
Twitter could face trouble if a user links to copyrighted work or a foreign infringing website. SOPA could also compel Twitter to further censor its users and spend money to regulate how the service is used.
SOPA has put the future of content distribution in doubt and since Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, its future could be on the line with the bill. As described in their wiki, the language of the bill could send large volumes of IP violations against Wikiepedia and the site will not be able to spend the time or money to fight each one. The bill would also force Wikipedia to censor the kinds of wikis uploaded as well as wiki content.
Google probably wouldn't be shut down, but it would be asked to kill off all the other sites because it links to them. Suddenly, Google has a major pain in the butt on its hands. It has to kill links to sites all the time when IP owners ask.
Any risk for Google is a risk for Yahoo and Bing.
As mentioned by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, SOPA could affect many of the world's most popular websites and cripple others. However, the real victim of a bill like SOPA would be the startups whose innovation will be restricted by this bill. Smaller websites may not have the lawyers to fight a bill like SOPA and other sites may not consider launching at all for fear of prosecution.