Understanding the SOPA & PIPA

Back in January, SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) made headlines as controversial anti-piracy bills and were subsequently protested out of Congressional consideration. This article takes a look at what these two proposed bills were and the controversy around them. As more recent legislative proposals (such as the CISPA – the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) have been proposed, it’s clear that the bills raise some contentious issues, as far as the privacy rights community is concerned.

What are the SOPA and PIPA about?

The bills are known as SOPA in the House of Representatives and PIPA in the Senate. They are both aimed at preventing or limiting access to overseas websites that traffic in pirated content and counterfeit products, from movies and music to counterfeit consumer goods and even medication.

Since its introduction in October 2011, the proposed legislation had been moving forward at a fast pace, being a priority for entertainment companies, publishers, pharmaceutical companies and other industry interest groups who complain that online piracy costs them billions of dollars each year.

Both the SOPA and PIPA were initially approaches to combating copyright infringement on foreign websites. They do so in two ways. First, the US Department of Justice would be able to seek court orders requiring internet service providers to block the domain names of infringing sites. Comcast could end up blocking its clients from visiting, even though the underlying IP address would still be reachable. This ISP-blocking provision in the legislation was a major concern for internet security experts. As a result, both SOPA and PIPA ended up dropping the provision.

Secondly, the proposed bills allow rights holders to seek court orders requiring payment providers, advertisers and search engines to stop doing business with an infringing site. This would mean that rights holders would be able to request that funding be cut off from an infringing site and search links to that site be removed. The offending site would then have five days to appeal any action taken.

Critics said…

Opponents of SOPA and PIPA included civil rights groups, privacy advocates and popular websites, including Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Critics argued that neither piece of legislation actually does enough to protect against false accusations. Provisions in the bill ultimately grant immunity to payment processors and ad networks that cut off sites based on a reasonable belief of infringement. Even if the claims end up being false, it is only the site that suffers.

At the same time, sites that host user-generated content (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo) will be under pressure to closely monitor their users’ behavior. While this kind of monitoring is regular practice on larger sites, this could become a significant liability for startups.

On the other hand…

Supporters of SOPA and PIPA counter that critics are exaggerating the issues. According to Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, SOPA clearly defines infringing sites based on Supreme Court holdings and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). Sherman points out that the SOPA also requires rights holders to follow a strict set of rules when trying to get payment cut off to an infringing site. False claims can actually result in damages, such as costs and attorney’s fees.

“In light of recent events…”

The SOPA was ultimately stopped after the unprecedented online protest. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid announced on January 20, 2012, that he would postpone the critical vote “in light of recent events.” This led a number of US Senators to withdraw their sponsorships of PIPA.

Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith, did the same, saying that his panel would delay action on similar legislation until wider agreement on the issue could be achieved. Smith said:

“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”


This article takes a look at the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which were proposed in 2011 as a way to provide the US government and copyright holders with additional tools to limit access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing on counterfeit goods.” Under the proposed acts, this ranges from movies and music to counterfeit consumer goods and even medication. The article explores the proposed legislation from both supporters’ and critics’ points of view.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) exam and the Certification Foundation Course and Exam (Foundations), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Privacy responsibility framework (CIPP/IT; II.B.)
  • Combating threats and exploits (CIPP/IT; III.E.b.)
  • Privacy and data protection regulation – United States (Foundations; I.D.b.)
  • Threats to online privacy (Foundations III.B.b.)

2 comments to Understanding the SOPA & PIPA

  • xavierlh1

    There are some very useful articles in here, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to search them. Am I missing some obvious functionality?

    For example, as I prepare for CIPP test in July, I’m looking for information on the privacy implication of the EEOC. Short of skipping through all articles, how can I find this information?

  • hannah

    Hi Xavier,

    Sorry I didn’t see this comment earlier and it’s taken so long to respond. You can search through the articles by using Google search: keyword

    Hope this helps and good luck with the test!

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