Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

The Top 20 Tech Stories of 2011

Getting on a SOPA Box

In the United States government, two pieces of legislation caught the attention of the media in general and the blogosphere in particular: SOPA and Protect IP. Both proposed acts target the problems of counterfeiting and digital piracy.

One of the big challenges of battling crime on the Internet is that it's a global problem. A country's legal jurisdiction may not be able to touch someone who is guilty of perpetrating crimes online. So a record company in the United States might have very little recourse to pursue claims of copyright infringement against someone offering up the company's music for free on a site hosted in another country.

Both SOPA and Protect IP attempt to address this problem by targeting the support system that keeps pirate sites in operation. Some of the proposed actions include forcing Internet Service Providers to remove access to the pirate sites or cutting off funds by pressuring payment services like PayPal to halt payments to the sites. Opponents to the bills point out how these actions could create security vulnerabilities and censor legitimate sites. A few fear that this legislation would let private companies silence sites like Wikileaks, which regularly publishes reports that criticize governments and corporations.

As the debate waged in both the Senate with Protect IP and the House of Representatives with SOPA, we saw two sides define themselves. On the side supporting the legislation we saw organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). On the opposing side, sites like Google, eBay and Facebook spoke out against the proposed laws. As of December 2011, neither piece of legislation has been voted on by the government.