pirateWhen I first heard rumblings about SOPA, I have to admit I thought someone's spell check had taken a day off. Who cares about soap? Or is it soup? I know I wasn't the only one scratching her head wondering: just what is SOPA anyway?

And now that we've been through a day of trying to work our way around a half-blacked-out Internet, the questions swirling around the Stop Online Piracy Act are just getting more complicated. So here it is, the four things you need to know about SOPA (and its sister PIPA) so you can sound like you know what you're talking about:

1. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is an act introduced in the House of Representatives by House Judiciary Committee Chair and Texas Republican Lamar Smith (along with 12 co-sponsors) last fall. The Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) is the Senate equivalent of SOPA.

2. The bills would give intellectual property owners the ability to demand that American-based sites no longer link to foreign sites containing content upon which they have a copyrighted claim. In other words, if a site based out of a European country is streaming an illegal movie, the American movie company can demand -- without any judicial review -- that a site like Google remove it from its search engine.

3. Because of the lack of judicial review and the broadness of the language, the bills come dangerously close to violating the Constitutional right to free speech. Essentially, SOPA would allow content owners to target U.S. websites that don't even know they're hosting pirated content. It could hurt major sites like Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Reddit, and more, which depend on users to upload content and effectively black out much of the Internet.

4. Protests against both SOPA and PIPA are working. Already, in light of yesterday's mass blackout of sites, PIPA co-sponsor Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and SOPA co-sponsor Arizona Rep. Ben Quayle have pulled their names from the bills, and other legislators are following suit. Americans can sign their names to the protest at Stop American Censorship.

Are you supporting SOPA and PIPA, or are you joining the protest?

 

Image via fuzzcat/Flickr