How the Stop Online Piracy Act Could Affect You

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Copyright and anti-piracy laws are generally only of interest to a few select parties – the entertainment industry, file-sharing sites and Internet users who make a habit of downloading pirated content, for instance. But a pair of bills making the rounds in Congress right now have attracted considerable attention and opposition from a broad swath of individuals and businesses.

The bills in question are the PROTECT-IP Act, currently in the Senate, and the Stop Online Piracy Act, currently in the House, which aim to put an end to piracy by giving copyright holders the power to shut down a website that hosts pirated content. SOPA, which has gained more traction on Capitol Hill recently, has caught particular hell from Internet users and major tech companies, and on Tuesday a coalition of companies including Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter put aside their differences to take out a full-page ad in The New York Times objecting to the proposed laws.

“Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new and uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites,” reads the letter. “We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.”

The companies’ letter naturally focused on the potential impact on their businesses, placing themselves in counterpoint to the entertainment industry, which has claimed substantial losses stemming from music and movie piracy. But far from the intense lobbying battle taking place in Washington, ordinary consumers – including those who have never pirated material – could find themselves impacted by the bill.

That’s because the bill gives copyright holders unprecedented power to force search engines and Internet service providers to make websites essentially disappear. A website found in violation of copyright law would be removed from search results, while an ISP would be forced to use domain name system filtering to make it so the Web address no longer leads an Internet user to the website. The website would still exist, and be accessible directly by its IP address, but simply putting in a traditional Web address would not lead a user to the site.

That means that only those who have the Web knowledge to get around those roadblocks would be able to access the allegedly infringing site, while the average Internet user would be left to wonder why his or her favorite site had disappeared overnight. Meanwhile, many security experts have officially come out against implementing this sort of system, arguing that it would undermine the security of the Web.