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SOPA – what you need to know

The chances are that you’ve probably heard of it, but SOPA is not something many of us know much about. So what is it, and what does it mean for the UK?

SOPA is the acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill currently making its way through the legislative process in the US.

It is a controversial proposal, and one that has polarised opinion over in the states. Obviously the act, if it was passed, would have no direct impact on our laws here in the UK. But the implications for the web could be very serious.

SOPA in a nut shell

In a nut shell, SOPA (and its sister act, the Protect-IP Act – PIPA) has been drawn up to try and put a stop to the pirating of content such as films and music.

For many people this will seem like a fairly justifiable proposal, designed to protect the copyright of artists, filmmakers and musicians.

Where the criticism comes from is how the proposal has been worded. Critics of SOPA have said that the Act will violate the right to free speech, freedom of expression, and will only do damage to the internet.

Internet blackout

In protest to the Act, several big websites are running a blackout day this Wednesday. These include Reddit, Boing Boing, and Wikipedia.

“Proponents of SOPA have characterised the opposition as being people who want to enable piracy or defend piracy,” Wikipedia found Jimmy Wales told the BBC.

“But that’s not really the point. The point is the bill is so over broad and so badly written that it’s going to impact all kinds of things that, you know, don’t have anything to do with stopping piracy.”

It is a reasonable concern, as any government intervention on the internet could be seen as a slippery slope to censorship.

The vote on SOPA has been delayed for now, with proponents of the Act admitting that there are flaws which need to be sorted out.

But with the billion-dollar entertainment industry keen to get some form of anti online piracy laws through the legislative process, we are sure to see something passed before long.