What is SOPA?

Can the government create an internet blacklist? A controversial bill to punish online piracy pits media companies against search engines and free speech advocates. Get a legal expert’s take on the arguments for and against SOPA.

Adam Freedman

Today’s topic: The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA

And now, your daily dose of legalese: This article does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. In other words, although I am a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer. In fact, we barely know each other. If you need personalized legal advice, contact an attorney in your community.

What Caused the Wikipedia Blackout?

If you had to look up something – anything – on January 18, 2012, you might have been out of luck. On that day, the English language version of Wikipedia had basically shut itself down. Instead of the usual collection of articles, there was a simple message saying “Imagine a world without free knowledge.” On the same day, an estimated 7,000 other internet sites also went dark. The point of this online blackout was to protest a controversial piece of legislation currently moving through the US Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. In today’s article, I’ll explain the basics of SOPA, and why it’s so controversial.


What is SOPA (and PIPA)?

SOPA is the bill pending before the US House of Representatives, it was introduced on October 26, 2011 by Congressman Lamar Smith and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. There is a Senate version of the same legislation, but it goes by the name of the Protect IP Act, or PIPA.

Although SOPA and PIPA sound like harmless cartoon characters, they deal with a very treacherous issue – the theft of intellectual property online. Intellectual property, of course, refers to things like music, paintings, stories, articles and yes, even podcasts. Copyright law allows the creators of intellectual property to have exclusive rights to profit from their creations for a particular period of time – and that comes with the right to sue people who infringe their copyrights.


The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.