What is SOPA?
SOPA is an acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act which is a bill (House Bill 3261) that was introduced into the US House of Representatives in Oct. 2011 by House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar Smith and various co-sponsors.

Although the SOPA bill has, since this writing, been tabled and is no longer going to be voted on by the U.S. government, it remains an important topic of discussion for all citizens of the internet. If the SOPA bill, or any similar bill, were to pass into law, it would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to get court orders against any website accused of allowing or enabling copyright infringement to occur on the site.

If this SOPA bill protects copyright infringement, why are so many people against it?
Protecting the rights of artists and creators is very important, no doubt about it - nobody disputes this fact. The problem is that the SOPA bill is very broadly written, and gives governmental agencies a ton of power to control what a website may or may not display. Moreover, the way the bill is written could prevent advertising networks and third-party payment companies from doing business with the website, could require search engines to block searches for the site, and could require ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to block access to the site. This bill could also require ISPs top block IP addresses from being accessed from their service. In short, if this bill (or any similar bill) passes, you may not have freedom of choice in what sites you may or may not visit, or what content you may or may not see online.

How would this SOPA bill affect Gaia?
Being a site that supports user-generated content, Gaia Online could potentially be held liable for all content posted by its members. Currently, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (a.k.a. DMCA) makes copyright holders notify a website that his/her intellectual property rights are being violated, and the website then complies with removal of said content if copyright violations are found. If the SOPA bill were ever to pass, the copyright owner would be allowed to go straight to the courts to seek legal remedy for removal of his/her content before talking to the website. A judge could then block access to a website based on this alleged enabling of copyright theft.

This means that Gaia would quite possibly have to review all content submitted by members before it could be posted. This monitoring would have to include posts, threads, guild posts, guild topics, and private messages. Gaians would, in all likelihood, no longer be able to freely post art, comments, or send messages to friends without us having to read and review that content first. It would also mean that most likely Gaians would no longer be allowed to link to other websites on Gaia given that the content of that website might contain copyright infringing material.

I'm not from the U.S. so why should I care about a piece of U.S. legislation?
Great question! You need to care about this bill (or any bill like it) because it directly affects the ability of all people, regardless of where you live, to have free access to internet sites. If you are living outside of the U.S. and want to access certain sites, you may not be able to do so as any sites found to be violating the law may be blocked from being accessed by anyone regardless of his/her nationality.

I'd like to learn more about SOPA - where can I get some good information on this bill?
The following websites and articles contain informative pieces on SOPA and its potential effects on the internet and internet community culture:
Stop American Censorship: americancensorship.org
Wikipedia Article on SOPA: Wikipedia Article on SOPA
Electronic Frontier Foundation: Electronic Frontier Foundation
Center for Democracy and Technology: Center for Democracy and Technology
The White House Official Response to the SOPA Bill: White House Official Repsonse to SOPA

I'd like to contact my local representative to tell him/her that I do not support this SOPA bill, or any similar bills. How can I do that?
There are many ways you can contact your local governmental representative and let him/her know that you do not support the SOPA bill. There are links at various sites that will help you get in touch with your representative:

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a tool that will let you know which representative to contact, and how to contact him/her about SOPA: EFF Information on Contacting Your Representative

Stop American Censorship has various links for both U.S. and non-U.S. residents to contact local representatives about SOPA or sign petitions against the SOPA bill: Stop American Censorship page with links to file petitions against SOPA