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What is SOPA and why should Georgia Baptists care?


Ray Newman

DULUTH — If you attempted to look up information on Google, find help with your homework on Wikipedia, or get an idea for dinner on Pinterest Jan. 18 you saw part of what was probably the most effective online-specific protest in the relatively young history of the Internet.

Sites such as Twitter and Facebook became virtual megaphones for those opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), sponsored in the House of Representatives by a bipartisan group. The bill drew the ire of search engines and social media hubs despite its overall stated goal to curb the stealing of American online intellectual content by foreign websites. Groups supporting the bill included those in the movie, book publishing, and recording industries.

Though no one is advocating online piracy, opponents say measures go too far and enter into censorship of the Web. In a statement on its blog the night before protests started, Google said SOPA and its counterpart being presented in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), “would grant new powers to law enforcement to filter the Internet and block access to tools to get around those filters.” The statement went further in drawing comparisons to similar steps taken by oppressive regimes around the world to stymie communication among citizens.

“These bills would make it easier to sue law-abiding U.S. companies,” the statement added.

“SOPA, while having stated goals to protect intellectual property rights, carries with it collateral concerns that a precedent would be set that would begin to infringe more on the freedoms we enjoy,” pointed out Ray Newman, Georgia Baptist Convention state missionary in Ethics and Public Affairs.

Popular Internet sites such as Google, Wordpress, and Wikipedia joined others in an online protest of the Stop Internet Piracy Act Jan. 18. Outcry against the bill resulted in its being pulled from consideration two days later.

“Freedom of speech and freedom of expression could be infringed by aggressive enforcement of SOPA as currently worded,” he continued. “Any law that places the accused in the position of being guilty before proof is presented should sound an alarm to all freedom-loving people.”

Representative Lamar Smith (R), Texas, co-wrote SOPA with Senator Patrick Leahy (D), Vermont. Smith pulled the bill Jan. 20. Senator Harry Reid on that same day called off a scheduled vote of PIPA via, ironically enough, Twitter.

Smith referred to the protests as a “knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem” which only continues to benefit off-shore websites drawing from the content created in America. On Jan. 20 he said he was pulling the bill “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

“The Committee will continue work with copyright owners, Internet companies, financial institutions to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property,” he said in the statement.

Newman joined others saying the bill simply left too much room for a broader interpretation than perhaps originally intended.

“Georgia Baptists should always be concerned when there is legislation that will infringe on their personal and corporate freedoms,” he said.