January 15, 2012
Every business with an online presence – no matter the size – is going to be affected by the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is set to be voted on when Congress resumes later this month. Companies like Google that provide a gateway to diverse content on the web will be hit directly, but even smaller businesses – from online payroll providers to ecommerce sites – could be affected, even if they don’t at first appear to have a direct link with anything SOPA was created to fight. Every user of the Internet, whether a business owner or not, needs to understand why SOPA exists and what the unintended consequences of this poorly considered piece of legislation will really be, both for small companies and the nation as a whole. After educating yourself, take action! If you disagree with SOPA and want to help stop it before it causes any damage, there are things you can do, both through your company and as an individual.
What is SOPA?
SOPA was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives last October by Republican Representative Lamar Smith and 12 co-sponsors. It was created as part of an effort to combat online piracy on behalf of copyright holders by requiring that any site that links to or does business with an offending party be held legally responsible for any illegal acts the offender might commit, whether or not the site contacted is engaging in any illicit activities.
What Does This Mean For Small Business?
This means that payment facilitators such as PayPal would be banned from doing business with that site and that Google would be forced to remove all traces of the site from its system, effectively blocking any site that allegedly enabled illegal access to copyrighted materials. Businesses that advertise on other websites could be affected if any of those websites are accused of violating SOPA. Any business that refuses to comply with court orders under SOPA could be held accountable for any legal infractions, dooming them to pay the price for others’ (alleged) mistakes. If an online retailer sells an item that has been counterfeited–even if the retailer believes the goods are legitimate–they could be cut off from their payment processors and advertising networks. The cost required to evaluate every web page linked to and item sold regularly could make an online presence unfeasible for some businesses, removing them from the Internet completely.
What Does This Mean For The Country?
At its heart SOPA serves a noble purpose: to keep foreign websites from offering pirated materials on their websites. It’s a noble endeavor, but it’s faulty in its execution. The federal government should not be responsible for ensuring that copyrighted materials are not duplicated illegally. If companies decide they want to shut down a competitor, they could conceivably do so by filing a court order alleging the theft of intellectual property. This could shut down any website that allows user input, such as forums, social networks or blogs. Anything that could conceivably contain a link to pirated material could be shut down. This could easily result in the dissolution of social networks and the free exchange of ideas over the Internet in the United States.
What Can Be Done?
If you’re a leader in your company, you could publicly express your dissent with the proposal, perhaps going so far as to join companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Wikipedia in a possible blackout of services shortly before Congress returns from its winter break on the 23rd of January. If you’d like to lend your support to stopping SOPA and its Senate bill PIPA, visit Stop American Censorship to learn more and find out what you can do to help the cause. The government functions in response to the will of the people; if enough citizens express their distaste for these bills that could shut down the Internet in the United States, we can save our right to free speech online.
Joseph Baker is a freelance writer living in the Midwest. He enjoys working on his novel and drinking large amounts of Earl Grey tea. He writes this article behalf of American InterContinental University.