The Stop Online Piracy Act: what is it, and how will it affect the music industry?

The American bill that everyone's fighting about purports to protect the music industry from piracy, but critics argue that it threatens the internet as we know it.

30.12.11

Words by: Charlie Jones

Two undeniably good things are music and the internet, so a bill that threatens to pitch one against the other is pretty bad news. With customers flocking away from US hosting firm GoDaddy today in protest of the company’s support of SOPA, it’s worth assessing the debate, and asking the question of whether this bill could really be the right move for our music industry.

SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, is an American bill that is set to go to Congress early next year. With the streaming and sharing of copyright content in its sights, the proposed bill gives the American government the power to order Internet Service Providers to alter their domain name servers, so that the domain names of foreign sites which may host copyright content come under attack.

The government would also be able to order search engines to exclude such foreign websites from its results, as well as forcing payment providers to to shut down their accounts, and advertisement services to refuse ads or payment from potentially illegal sites. Effectively, it aims to blacklist all sites that host copyrighted content without permission. That means that Torrent sites will be in trouble. But so, technically, is YouTube.

Although built around the positive aim of protecting intellectual property, this bill would create what some commentators are calling a “Great American Firewall”, giving the United States its first taste of the power to censor the internet. Critics of the bill argue that this fundamental attack on the very foundations of the internet threatens to undermine our free speech and entirely reform the internet as we know it. Since the bill renders websites liable for everything their users post, it would pose huge trouble for internet giants like Facebook and YouTube – sites that are staples for music fans in 2011.

This year saw the rise of musicians through Twitter and YouTube, and the threatening of these particular sites seems like anything but helpful to the current climate. SOPA might protect the business end of music, but it also has the potential to curb the creative end of things.

So, is this really the best move to be made? We’ll have to keep pondering it as we see in the new year; with the bill being reviewed in January, this is likely to become one of the big stories of 2012. Stay tuned.