The Protect IP Act pros and cons are numerous. This legislation and its companion, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), are part of the fight against the violation of copyrighted material and intellectual property. They are aimed specifically at overseas violators. Though developed specifically for media materials, these acts can also apply to goods and medicines.

Media companies have tried many approaches, including suing individuals, asking internet service providers (ISPs) to go after subscribers involved in piracy, and working with the United States government to take down violating domains. While these efforts have helped domestically, they are ineffective against overseas sites, like The Pirate Bay and Megaupload.

Terms of SOPA and PIPA

SOPA and PIPA originally included two methods of protection. The first process involves the United States Department of Justice filing for court orders to force ISPs to block the domain names of sites committing infringement. An ISP, like Comcast, might block customers from accessing a particular website reported for infringement of intellectual property, though the IP address would still be available through another ISP.

The second method of protection allows the owner of the intellectual property to get a court order to prevent advertisers, search engines, and payment providers from doing business with an offending entity. The link would then disappear from search results and money would stop flowing to the company. The penalized site has five days to appeal.

Differences Between SOPA and PIPA

  • SOPA and PIPA have slightly different focuses. SOPA applies to "foreign infringing sites" that "commit or facilitate" infringement on copyrighted media.
  • PIPA is aimed at sites with "no significant use other than" committing acts of infringement. Between PIPA and SOPA, the SOPA is the more aggressive of the two.
  • The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was developed in the House of Representatives, authored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and backed by 31 cosponsors.
  • PIPA was authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and supported by 40 co-sponsors in the Senate.
  • ProPublica has a visualized list of supporters in both the House and Senate.

Opposition to SOPA and PIPA

Critics feel that these acts don't do enough to protect against false accusations. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) agrees and points out that payment processors and advertisers have immunity as long as they have a reasonable belief that infringement is taking place. That means that when an allegation turns out to be false, only the site suffers losses. The bar for establishing a reasonable belief of infringement is very low, so the potential for abuse is high.

Some argue that these laws pose too great a burden on sites that allow content generated by users. Such sites will have to monitor that behavior very stringently, which is something that companies like YouTube already have to do. However, this is much harder for a startup or smaller company to do. Many major companies, like Google and Wikipedia, have protested these pieces of legislation with blackouts and placed statements of opposition on their web pages.

Still, others don't believe that there is a legislative answer to the problem and point to the need for a change in the business model instead. Experts like Mike Masnick from TechDirt point out that the best way to battle piracy is to give customers what they want. Companies like Spotify and Netflix are examples of how successful this can be.

In Support of SOPA and PIPA

As passionately as some oppose SOPA and PIPA, supporters of the legislation feel just as strongly. They call the dangers outlined by the EFF exaggerated. Cary Sherman is the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. He writes that SOPA has clear definitions of what constitutes infringement, defined even further by Supreme Court decisions and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Copyright holders have to follow precise rules in order to stop payments from flowing to a site.

Sherman also points out that anyone making false claims faces "damages, including costs and attorneys' fees." In the tech world, cases against alleged infringing sites, like MGM v. Grokster in 2005, caused similar predictions of doom. However, the world of digital music has only bloomed in the years since.

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