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SOPA Copyright Bill: Prison for Pirated Posts?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on November 18, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The controversial SOPA copyright bill is coming under fire from influential lawmakers, as fears spread about the proposed law's penalties -- including possible prison time for posting copyrighted material online.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi chose an apt forum to go public with her criticism. "Need to find a better solution than #SOPA #DontBreakTheInternet," Pelosi said Thursday via Twitter, Reuters reports.

Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., made his comments offline, saying SOPA has no chance of passing. "There are so many unintended consequences," Issa told The Hill newspaper.

The lawmakers' comments followed Wednesday's House hearing on the SOPA copyright bill. Google and other Internet giants want SOPA killed or rewritten, while Hollywood studios and record companies want it to pass.

SOPA, along with its companion bill in the Senate called PROTECT-IP, expands copyright holders' powers and could send violators to prison.

Under current laws, copyright owners can ask websites to remove copyrighted media clips. Under SOPA, copyright owners could also ask banks and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to pull the plug on websites with pirated content.

If the banks or ISPs refuse, copyright owners can take them to court.

SOPA would also make streaming copyrighted content a felony. Anyone who posts copyrighted work that would cost at least $2,500 to license could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Critics fear courts could go crazy with the so-called "streaming felony" provision. For example, YouTube clips of people singing copyrighted songs, or clips with copyrighted music playing in the background, may be targeted, critics say.

The SOPA copyright bill, with its prison provision, is still a long way from becoming law. It must clear the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet before it comes up for a Congressional vote.

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