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PIPA and SOPA – the controversial legislative acts taking aim at online piracy – sparked blackout protests from Google and Wikipedia and, as Buchanan shareholders David A. Gurwin and Michael Dever explained, there are high-profile supporters on both sides of the debate.

PIPA, know in full as the "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Threat of Intellectual Property ACT" or "PROTECT IP," was first introduced in the Senate. SOPA – the Stop Online Piracy Act – is a similar bill proposed by the House.

Both look "to halt the spread of pirate content on the Web by utilizing some new methodologies," Gurwin and Dever explained in a Pittsburgh Business Times article published February 2, 2012.

"In the supporters' camp are media and entertainment companies, whose profits have been hurt badly by offshore piracy of copyrighted materials, such as movies, music and software," Gurwin and Dever wrote.

Standing in opposition are "Internet companies and search engines, as well as consumer advocacy groups, who feel that either version of the bills, if enacted, would result in overregulation and censorship on the Internet."

According to Dever and Gurwin, both are valid arguments.

Among the "new methodologies" proposed was "removing the names offending website from the DNS directory, which functions as the 'address book' for the Internet," but that portion may be removed from SOPA

PIPA and SOPA would also give the U.S. Justice Department "the ability to force payment processors, such as credit card companies and services such as PayPal, to refuse to make payments to any website that host potentially pirated content," Gurwin and Dever noted.

Supporters of the bills point to the current Digital Millennium Act (DMCA) as insufficient to stop foreign piracy. Under DMCA, an Internet service provider is granted immunity from infringement liability if it acquiesces to take-down demands from copyright owners.

"The entertainment industries claim to be losing millions of dollars yearly to such piracy, which is having a very real and detrimental impact on the economy, especially in areas – such as California – heavily dependent on the entertainment industry," the article explained, also noting the acts intend to stop the sale of counterfeit goods, thereby protecting consumers.

PIPA and SOPA opponents "believe the punishments meted out under these bills would extend beyond the 'bad guys' who pirated the content" and punish site owners who host pirated content – even a small amount, even unknowingly. The acts would allow sites to be shut down – arbitrarily, opponents believe – by Internet Service Providers before site owners could defend themselves.

"Perhaps even more significant, the bills would cut off money flow to these sites if they are deemed to be a host of infringing materials, unless and until such time as the site owner could prove they are exempt from such an infringement claim," effectively censoring current content.

Both sides of the divide have sought to turn the public opinion in their favor, and both the House and Senate are reviewing the bills.

"What is clear today is that intellectual property theft remains a very significant problem for content providers," Dever and Gurwin concluded.

"[S]olving that problem may require a different approach than what is proposed by SOPA and PROTECT IP."

Source: PIPA, SOPA gather support and opposition; both sides have valid concerns, Pittsburgh Business Times. (Subscription required.)