Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA and PIPA: the bills behind Wikipedia's blackout

If you were planning to use Wikipedia to get a head start on this semester’s papers, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. The crowd-sourced encyclopedia is staging a 24-hour blackout to protest SOPA and PIPA (the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act). Wikipedia, Google, and other tech giants opposing the bill claim that it would hinder innovation and infringe on freedom of speech. According to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, whose California district includes much of Silicon Valley, SOPA “would mean the end of the internet as we know it.”

Meanwhile, major media companies, including the Motion Picture Association of America and several record labels, support the bills' efforts to curb the theft of U.S. intellectual property. Rupert Murdoch characterized opponents of SOPA and PIPA as “Silicon valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.”

One way to see past the hyperbole is to read the text of the bills themselves. Using THOMAS, a database from the Library of Congress, you can find the full text of a bill, along with summaries, revisions, amendments, CBO cost estimates, and a list of sponsors; you can also track the bill’s progress through the legislative process. Search for the bills by number or name (not abbreviation), or follow these links:

THOMAS contains summaries of bills from 1973 through the current Congress, and the full text of bills from 1989 through the current Congress. For earlier years, print copies of many bills are available through Lane Library’s government documents collection.

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