SOPA: Stopping Pirating or Needless Censorship?

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I'm a total Internet junkie. I spend a lot of my free time online, browsing various sites like Youtube, chatting in forums with friends and otherwise killing time. As of late, though, one particular subject seems to have pushed itself into the forefront of internet denizens everywhere. That is, SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, a censorship bill which was proposed by the US House of Representatives on Oct. 26, 2011. It's created quite a buzz online, and with all the people talking about it and what it supposedly proposes, it's hard to get one's facts straight. Friends of mine claim that the government's trying to censor the internet, block access to certain sites - that SOPA will cripple the World Wide Web as we know it.—- has even proposed a rally against the bill, encouraging sites to black out their services today in protest. Several other web services and sites have joined, even Internet giants such as Google and Wikipedia have joined the protest. Either way, SOPA's causing a big stir online. But what does it actually propose? Is all the protest warranted? I decided to do a little research into the bill myself. I looked up the bill on Wikipedia in order to read about what it was proposing, in layman’s terms.

In a nutshell, if passed, SOPA would allow both copyright holders and the US Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites either accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on the order, several actions could be taken against the accused website, including barring advertisement, barring search engines from linking to the site, and requesting that Internet providers block access to such sites. The bill would also make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted media a crime punishable by prison sentences.

Those supporting the bill claim it will protect artists' intellectual property, reduce illegal pirating of media and help bolster copyright laws against foreign websites. Those against argue that SOPA violates free speech, will threaten whistle-blowing and otherwise effectively debilitate the web as we know it.

So who's in the right? There's no question that pirating is a major problem these days. There are thousands of websites out there dedicated to the illegal downloading and streaming of copyrighted material.

On the other hand, SOPA doesn't just target these sites in general, but also those accused of "facilitating" said sites. How is this going to affect my internet browsing? Is SOPA going to bar my access to websites I frequent on a daily basis? Just how far does the policy of free use extend to the internet?

Bottom line, there are still too many "what ifs" for me to support such a bill. I prefer my internet uncensored and would appreciate it if things stayed that way.