Why Every Business Owner Should Know About SOPA
The internet community is up in arms about the introduction of a bill designed to combat copyright infringement on the web. And rightfully so. If passed, the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) will have a detrimental impact on the internet as we – Minnesota business owners and publishers – know it.
Before I argue why passing SOPA will obliterate the democratic nature of publishing any type of content online, it would help if you understood what it actually is.
What is SOPA?
SOPA is a bill that was introduced in October by Texas representative Lamar Smith. The bill seeks to allow law enforcement to essentially police the internet in order to fight copyright infringement and fraudulent goods sold on the web. The Department of Justice is hoping to protect intellectual property and eliminate the illegal streaming and downloading of music and movies online and the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, among many other nefarious activities that proliferate on the internet.
SOPA sounds all good and fair, and like something the general public could probably get behind. However, there is always a catch in these situations. It has everything to do with the way the federal government is planning on enforcing SOPA and the impact it will have on how the entire world uses the Internet.
How the DOJ Plans to Enforce SOPA
This is where things get sticky. Here’s an example --
Let’s say you are the owner of a Wordpress blog about electronics. You publish your own content regularly. Sometimes you write reviews about products, such as car stereos or digital cameras. One day you decide to post an article you found on another site about a camera you’re reviewing. You give proper attribution, including a link back to the website where you found the article. (This is standard operating procedure for ethical bloggers.) But the owner of that particular article doesn’t agree with your opinion on the camera and is angered you would use his/her article to prove your point.
According to SOPA, this blogger has the right to pursue legal action against your blog in the name of copyright infringement. Once an investigation is launched, not only is your website removed from the search engines and made inaccessible, but the entire Wordpress network can be disabled immediately for hosting your blog. SOPA gives the government the authority to shut down any suspect website or network at will.
‘The bill's wording is vague enough that a single complaint about even a major website could be enough to cause the site to be blocked.’ – Electronic Frontier Foundation
Sure, the situation could be easily resolved without getting law enforcement involved. The blogger would simply email you and you remove the article. However, you can see where things can get really problematic when it comes to the protection of free speech in more serious cases – like let’s say, politics, religious beliefs, and so on. Not to mention the fact that SOPA threatens the democratization of worldwide publishing and communication via platforms such as Tumblr, Wordpress, Blogger, YouTube and other free services. Those who use these providers for greater good – such as educators, non-profit organizations, human rights activists, journalists and business owners like you and me – will be penalized.
In other words, SOPA amounts to censorship on the web. And not just for so-called ‘rogue’ websites – for all of us.
How SOPA can affect business owners
Let’s talk about how SOPA affects you as a business owner.
First off, your website can be disabled if it is suspected of copyright infringement. Have a company blog? You better be painstakingly careful about the content you post there. And not only that, you better be careful about what your readers post there. SOPA gives lawmakers the power to shut down your website if they even suspect a comment left on your blog violates copyright laws.
If you’re a tech start-up, forget about finding venture capital. If SOPA flies, the same types of investors who funded start-ups like Facebook and Twitter will be scared off by the potential for lawsuits and other SOPA threats that put those start-ups right out of business.
Minneapolis is one of the most influential tech hubs for start-ups. Just imagine the impact something like this can have on the Minneapolis tech community and our local economy.
· If SOPA is passed, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites, such as Tumblr and Wordpress face being disabled regularly. How much business are you currently generating through social media? Say goodbye to those marketing channels.
· Do you operate an ecommerce site? How about use PayPal to complete online sales? Not only do large companies have the potential of losing millions of dollars when their website is blacklisted even for one day (imagine a Target or Best Buy), SOPA can also permanently block PayPal from doing business with a website suspected of copyright infringement.
There are so many other ways SOPA will damage not only ecommerce, but the internet in general. Just do a single Google search and you can view myriad of implications -- from killing the next Twitter, to threatening human rights.
Those who pursue signing SOPA into law are essentially banking on the general public being too confused by the details to understand the seriousness of their implications (and they don’t even understand them fully themselves.) That’s why popular websites such as Wikipedia, BoingBoing, Imgur and Reddit recently participated in a SOPA blackout day in protest.
It’s also important that we band together as business owners to ensure we do our best to bring awareness about the ruthlessness of SOPA and implore Congress to reject it altogether.
How Can You Help Fight SOPA?
You can help fight SOPA (as it is referred to in the House) or the sister bill to SOPA --PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act – as it is referred to in the Senate) -- by visiting americancensorship.org and signing the petition urging Congress to reject the bill.
Americancensorship.org also features many other ways you can participate in fighting this in the Senate before January 24, 2012, when it will vote on the bill.
Jeff Hahn is the CEO of Internet Exposure, a Minneapolis digital agency that specializes in web design, web development and internet marketing. You can follow Internet Exposure on Twitter @iexposure, or add them to your circles on Google+.