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House committee votes on SOPA today


(CBS) - YouTube videos of your kids dancing to Katy Perry songs could land you in jail, or at the very least, cost you a hefty fine. Sounds like a Big Brother-inspired vision of the future? It's actually only a few steps way from a reality. If a House committee votes to support the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) today, you could be committing a felony.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is meeting today to determine if a slightly, though still controversial, version of SOPA will move onto the House for a vote.

Resistance from Internet Giants

A wide range of opponents of the bill are speaking out. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales threatened a temporary shutdown of Wikipedia pages to protest the bill.

"One possible view is that because the law would seriously impact the functioning of Wikipedia for everyone, a global strike of at least the English Wikipedia would put the maximum pressure on the US government," Wales said in a statement against SOPA.

In November, Major mtechnology companies, like Google and Facebook, have taken a full page ad out in the New York Times to state their opposition.

A letter signed by AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo! and Zynga stated:

"Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites. 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. We cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign 'rogue' websites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting, while preserving the innovation and dynamism that has made the Internet such an important driver of economic growth and job creation."

CNN Money reported that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt "called the bill 'draconian' during a speech in Boston." SOPA has obvious consequences for a site like Google, which indexes the entire web.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee held a Nov. 16 hearing on  H.R. 3261 (SOPA). A statement released by Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith defended the bill.

"Unfortunately, the theft of America's intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. Under current law, rogue sites that profit from selling pirated goods are often out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement agencies and operate without consequences. The Stop Online Piracy Act helps stop the flow of revenue to rogue websites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators."

Google's copyright counsel Katherine Oyama testified before the panel. Oyama's written statement underline's the search engine giant's concerns.

"Unfortunately, we cannot support the bill as written, as it would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that could require monitoring of web sites and social media. Moreover, we are concerned that the bill sets a precedent in favor of Internet censorship and could jeopardize our nation's cybersecurity. In short, we believe the bill, as introduced, poses a serious threat to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job-creation."

Other sites like Reddit, BoingBoing, Tumblr and Mozilla put the issue on the front page of their websites and encouraging users to sign a petition against SOPA. The social link-sharing site Reddit relies heavily on a community of users, who have the freedom to post whatever they want, regardless of copyright infringement.

Lawmakers and Professors Join the Opposition

CNET reports opponents of the bill include members of Congress, like Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Rep. Ron Paul (PDF). Senior House Republican Rep. Darrell Issa joined the chorus of opponents.

"I would expect this bill is not going to become law in this Congress unless these problems are resolved," Issa said in a statement given to CNET

Professors from dozens of law schools, including Stanford, Berkeley and Harvard have also submitted letters of opposition (PDF). International organizations have also written in to state their concerns (PDF).

According to Forum for Growth & Innovation fellow James Allworth the bill "contains provisions that will chill innovation. It contains provisions that will tinker with the fundamental fabric of the internet. It gives private corporations the power to censor. And best of all, it bypasses due legal process to do much of it."

SOPA is intended to curb the illegal download of copyrighted materials from foreign "rogue" sites, like The Pirate Bay. There is already legislation that provides some protection for copyrighted material, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which requires companies to remove copyrighted content "in good faith."

Worst-case scenarios are being debated. The Electronic Frontier Foundation speculates, "Instead of complying with the DMCA, a copyright owner may now be able to use these new provisions to effectively shut down a site by cutting off access to its domain name, its search engine hits, its ads, and its other financing even if the safe harbors would apply."

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