The Internet is often compared to the Wild West because of its wild FREE  environment. It has been that way since it’s inception, when people were thrilled at the ability to put up websites with things like autopsy photos. 

Last fall, Congress introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, to serve as the new sheriff in town.

In addition, the PROTECT IP Act (short for the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) has also gained traction in the Senate, including co-sponsorships from both Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites.

The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.

Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites.

Opponents say that it violates the First Amendment,is Internet censorship, will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech actions.

Opponents have initiated a number of protest actions, including petition drives, boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and planned service blackouts by English Wikipedia and major Internet companies scheduled to coincide with the next Congressional hearing on the matter.

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on November 16 and December 15, 2011. The Committee was scheduled to continue debate in January 2012 but on January 17 Chairman Smith said that “due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February.”

This form of “censorship” threatens the Internet as we’ve known it…and free speech for that matter.

A tweet opposing SOPA said the act is “trying to put out a match with a fire extinguisher.”

Get informed. Contact your Senator now. This bill will cripple the Internet.