As digital technologies increasingly dominate personal and commercial activities, the issue of copyright protection becomes ever more controversial with stakeholder groups lining up to protect their interests. In a row dubbed by some (but denied by Wikipedia) as a clash between Hollywood and old media, and Silicon Valley, the US Congress has been attempting to enforce copyrights on the Internet, by proposing new legislative controls on internet service providers of websites that offer access to pirated material. The Congress Act, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Senate bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), have focused on targeting copyright infringers online and imposing a series of harsh penalties. The Bills would force ISPs to block non-U.S. websites accused of having infringing material, meaning sites from other countries might not be available in the United States. SOPA and PIPA are attempts to deal with the problem of online filesharing by granting powers to close down websites that are making material, such as films, music and television programmes, available without the permission of the rights holder.
In December, a group of influential technology figures, including founders of Twitter, Google and YouTube, published an open letter to lawmakers saying that the legislation would enable Internet regulation and censorship on par with the government regulation in China and Iran. They argue that ISPs should not be required to police the internet. Last month, an article in the Stanford Law Review described the bills as “an unprecedented, legally sanctioned assault on the Internet’s critical technical infrastructure”. However, the backers of the legislation, including the Motion Picture Association of America (the MPAA), the major movie studios and television networks, most major book publishers and several ISPs, say that without the legislation at least 2.2 million industry jobs would be at risk. Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, which backs SOPA and PIPA, equated copying a film with publishing pornography and hate speech.