By Megan Marrs, Published January 17, 2012
SOPA and PIPA: You’ve certainly heard about these two, but maybe you’re still not quite sure exactly what they mean or why they’ll be bad for your business—and make no mistake, they will certainly have a negative effect for small and medium sized businesses.
What Are SOPA and PIPA?
SOPA is the acronym for the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act. Partnered with SOPA is the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA). If these bills pass, together they will unleash chaos and destruction that will obliterate the internet as we know it.
Am I exaggerating? I don’t even know if I am. Because these bills really are serious bad news.
SOPA and PIPA were created in hopes of cracking down on pirates and rogue websites posting copyright infringing content. The bill’s description of what constitutes “intellectual property infringement” is remarkably vague and could encompass anything from memes to bad YouTube karaoke.
If your site is identified as hosting copyrighted material, you’d find your online advertising networks like AdWords disabled, payment facilitators like PayPal would be banned from doing business with you, and search engines would be ordered to take down links to your site (can you feel the SEO earth shaking beneath your feet?). Internet service providers would block access to your site and your domain name would be taken down with DNS blocking –you know, the thing they use for the Great Firewall of China?
Now before this, there was the Safe Harbor provision as part of the DMCA of 1998, which basically prevented sites from being held accountable for the content users post. It’s why YouTube can still exist today – if a user posts infringing content, it’s the user’s fault, not YouTube. But SOPA and PIPA would change that. Websites would become liable for user posted content. So even if you have a completely legitimate site, if a user posts one single infringing link, your entire site could be shut down. Well, you can imagine the implications of that. Kiss YouTube, Facebook – anything that hosts user-generated content – goodbye. Even if the whistle blower is wrong about your site having infringing material, they would shut down your site first, and ask questions later.
This would result in some pretty frightening censorship. We’re talking Fahrenheit 451 style. And one could imagine this process of judge ordered site blocking being used for business tactics and political campaigns. Considering what a huge role social media has played for activist movements just this past year, it would be a disaster to see such powerful mediums for expression ruined.
Everyone Hates It – So Why Is This Happening?
Many internet heavyweights such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, eBay, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga have spoken out against sent SOPA and PIPA, fearing they could spell out the end of creativity and free speech on the internet.
There has been a huge push on the internet and in online gaming communities to fight against these bills. GoDaddy, who at first supported SOPA, faced such a terrible backlash and had such a huge spike in domain transfers that they reversed their position. Sony was put under pressure and did a similar turnaround.
It sounds like nearly everyone is against these bills, right? Everyone except movie studios and major record labels, who have decided to finally stop whining about file sharing and instead simply bribe as many legislators as they can.
The movie and music industries will be the only ones benefiting with these bills, at the expense of everyone else. Because threatening YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter means threatening the entire world’s freedom of speech and expression.
Clueless Congress Calling the Shots
Many have brought up the issue concerning whether or not Congress has the knowledge and understanding of the internet to make such vital decisions and rulings. As John “TotalBiscut” Bain notes, these are 70-year-old men who barely know how to use a keyboard. How on earth are they qualified to pass legislation that could ruin the internet?
Texas Representative Republican Lamar Smith, who introduced the SOPA bill, claims that:
“The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality. Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts.”
This certainly doesn’t seem true considering the tremendous backlash against these bills. Thomas Peracchio of Examiner asks:
Are we to assume that Chairman Smith knows more about the internet than the engineers that created it? A group of 83 prominent Internet inventors and engineers sent an open letter to members of the United States Congress, stating their opposition to the SOPA and PIPA.
Perhaps we would have a bit more faith in Chairman Lamar Smith’s remarks if he truly was the representative of the State of Texas, and not the representative of the entertainment industry. According to numbers published by MapLight, a nonprofit research organization tracking political donations, the number one industry in terms of Campaign Contributions Received by SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith is TV, Movies and Music. Smith is TV, Movies and Music.
The End of Start-Ups and Small Biz
As Sonia Simone of Copyblogger explains, SOPA and PIPA could have a terrible effect on the economy. Startups and small, private companies hold the ability to bring forth new jobs and innovation. But no one will want to begin a startup with the risks that SOPA and PIPA bring—they simply can’t afford the risky charges of infringement.
In addition to bringing about the demise of startups, the bills would completely transform the process of internet marketing, with social media being thrown out of the mix because it simply would not be able to exist.
Black Out Protests by Wikipedia and Reddit
Wikipedia and Reddit are scheduled to host site-wide blackouts in protest of SOPA on January 18th.
While many support this blackout effort, some see it as a wasted effort. Brad McCarty of Insider claims it would be more effective for sites like Wikipedia, which gets massive amounts of traffic as the sixth most visited site in the world, to use banners in order to raise awareness rather than driving people away from its site with a blackout.
The problem is that banners are easy to ignore. Going to Wikipedia and finding something like this is a different story:
With an ominous black image starkly contrasting the normally clean and white Wikipedia, it demands attention.
Initiating a blackout on Wikipedia is also an important way to get the message out to casual internet users who might not be aware of SOPA.
Want to join in the blackout? Search Engine Land explains how to blackout your site in protest against SOPA and PIPA without hurting your SEO.
Can These Bills Even Prevent Piracy?
Those that oppose SOPA and PIPA argue that these bills, despite the extreme copyright-protection measures, will do little to deter pirates. Those that pirate illegal music usually have a pretty good idea of what they are doing, to the point where DNS blocks would provide only minimal inconvenience.
Lindsay Blakey of Inc. took the time to interview Corynne McSherry, who is the intellectual property director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and strongly against SOPA.
McSherry explains how legislation can do little to combat piracy, saying:
“I don’t think this is a problem that is going to be fixed by legislation. It’s not going to be addressed in courts. Past history should tell us this. For well over a decade the recording industry has been suing every file sharing site in existence. Has that stopped file sharing? Of course not.”
When asked about what should be done in regards to the issue of online piracy, McSherry answers:
To be honest, I tend to think we have everything in place that we need. It may be that we all have to accept that just as there is shoplifting in the world, there will be a certain amount of piracy. It’s the price of doing business.
If you’re a music or a video fan, you have more access to creative content than ever before. If you’re a creator—and we’re really talking about big media here—you have more ways to get content out than ever before. That’s what we should be focusing on and supporting, not damaging the YouTube of tomorrow. That would be a really bad trade off.
As John Bain, who released a incredibly interesting video explaining SOPA and PIPA (I highly recommend it), notes, piracy is a service problem. Many who once pirated music stopped once services like the iTunes store, Rhapsody, and Spotify came into play. Often, individuals who pirate movies do so because of convenience—certain content isn’t available in other countries, or won’t be released for long lengths of time. While I’m not condoning piracy, I believe that if you give people a reason not to pirate, many won’t.
There was a time when people believed VHS tapes would destroy the movie industry, but today it is doing just fine, and apparently has more than enough money to throw around its influence.
SOPA has Slowed Down…For Now
President Obama has recently denounced SOPA, saying he would not support the bill. The White House posted this on their blog:
While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.
While this is a great step in the right direction, PIPA is still alive and well in the Senate, and you can bet major sponsors like The Motion Picture Association of America will be formulating a new strategy.
Learn More about SOPA and PIPA
Molly Rants – Quick, funny, and insightful
Understanding SOPA – Informative cartoon video by The Guardian
Explanation video by John “TotalBiscuit” Bain — This guy is a UK law graduate, professional gaming commentator and journalist. I found this really interesting, although it might rub some the wrong way.