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PIPA and SOPA: What you need to know

As PIPA and SOPA work their way through Congress, the controversial bills have raised many questions. The most common: Wait, what are PIPA and SOPA?

By Jim AbramsAssociated Press / January 19, 2012

A blackout landing page is displayed on a laptop computer screen inside the "Anti-SOPA War Room" at the offices of the Wikipedia Foundation in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. The website opposes PIPA and SOPA.

Eric Risberg/AP

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WASHINGTON

Online piracy costs U.S. copyright owners and producers billions of dollars every year, but legislation in Congress to block foreign Internet thieves and swindlers has met strong resistance from high-tech companies, spotlighted by Wikipedia's protest blackout on Wednesday, warning of a threat to Internet freedom.

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House and Senate bills that once seemed to be on a path toward approval now face a rockier future. House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday said it was "pretty clear to many of us that there is a lack of consensus at this point."

Amid the high-tech campaign against the bills, several lawmakers came out in opposition. At least four Senate Republicans who had previously cosponsored the Senate bill — Orrin Hatch of Utah, Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas and Charles Grassley of Iowa — issued statements Wednesday saying they were withdrawing their support. Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland last week said that, after listening to constituent concerns, he could not vote for the Senate bill as it is currently written.

On the House side, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., issued a statement that he had heard from many of his constituents and come to the conclusion that the House and Senate bills "create unacceptable threats to free speech and free access to the Internet."

Here are some of the some of the questions being raised about the bills being considered:

Q. Why is legislation needed?

A. There's no argument that more needs to be done to protect artists, innovators and industries from copyright thieves and shield consumers from products sold on the Internet that are fake, faulty and unsafe. Creative America, a coalition of Hollywood studios, networks and unions, says content theft costs U.S. workers $5.5 billion a year. The pharmaceutical industry loses billions to Internet sellers of drugs that are falsely advertised and may be harmful.

Q. What is Congress trying to accomplish?

A. The two main bills are the Protect Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA, in the Senate, and the similar Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, in the House. There are already laws on the books to combat domestic websites trafficking in counterfeit or pirated goods, but little to counter foreign violators.

The bills would allow the Justice Department, and copyright holders, to seek court orders against foreign websites accused of perpetrating or facilitating copyright infringement. While there is little the United States can do to take down those websites, the bills would bar online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as credit card companies and PayPal from doing business with an alleged violator. It also would forbid search engines from linking to such sites.

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