Introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill intended to extend the U.S. law enforcement to “fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.” The law would expand existing laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material and impose a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Under SOPA, law enforcement could request court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, bar search engines from linking to the sites, require Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to the websites.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a controversial bill as proponents claim the bill would protect the intellectual property market, and that it has become necessary to increase enforcement of copyright laws. Opponents claim SOPA threatens free speech and enables law enforcement to block access to entire Internet domains due to infringing material posted on a single webpage or blog.
Several thousand websites, including Reddit, Boing Boing, Wired, WordPress, Wikipedia and Mozilla Firefox launched a service blackout on January 18, 2012 in protest of SOPA and, by extension, the Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). During the service outage, participating websites left readers with information about SOPA and PIPA, citing examples of what “could” happen if the SOPA/PIPA bills were passed.