SOPA: Why Business Owners and Content Sharers Should Care

It’s next to impossible to miss today’s biggest news if you go onlinestop SOPA at any point or see a newspaper; several of the web’s most prominent sites are “going dark” in protest of SOPA and PIPA, the proposed anti-online piracy legislation.

What is SOPA?

SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, is a bill that seeks to “crack down on copyright infringement by restricting access to sites that host pirated content,” according to a great report by CNN Money. These bills are supposedly aimed at websites – mainly overseas – known for their access to and promotion of illegal downloads of movies and other digital content.  While many agree that restrictions on privacy are needed, there are complicated consequences that reach much farther.  The proposed legislation would require U.S.-based search engines and other service provides to withhold or block services with sites that connect to these problematic sites, but many fear that the restrictions are the beginning of a slippery slope into censorship.

Here’s an illustration offered by The Street that brings the issue home:  “That means sites like Google wouldn’t show flagged sites in their search results, and payment processors like eBay’s (EBAY) PayPal couldn’t transmit funds to them.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerber, while not participating in the online blackout, had this to say about SOPA:

“The internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world. We can’t let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the internet’s development. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet.

The world today needs political leaders who are pro-internet. We have been working with many of these folks for months on better alternatives to these current proposals. I encourage you to learn more about these issues and tell your congressmen that you want them to be pro-internet.”

So far 128,689 people have liked his post. No wonder politicians are backing away from this legislation.

So what does this mean for small businesses?

According to ZDNet’s Heather Clancy,

“The problem is that the laws put the onus on those that “own” Internet sites to police whether or not intellectual property or copyright laws are being breached. The biggest sticking point is a clause that would require American Internet service providers (ISPs) to shut off access or routing requests to foreign Web site if they are found to be in breach. What’s more, there is no burden of proof in the existing bills: a site merely has to be accused of being in breach to be in danger of being blacklisted and shut down. Think of how much damage that could do to a small business or e-commerce site. It should scare you.”

If this legislation passes in its current form, it could have dramatic impacts on small businesses.  Your company will need to monitor all website content, including outgoing web links or product suppliers, to ensure they comply with intellectual copyright laws.  That would mean a lot of time and resources devoted to compliance.  SOPA would also complicate collaboration and marketing with international business partners.

What to Do?

Let your voice be heard.  In fact, in the purest, most ironic depiction of entrepreneurial spirits, some computer science students have developed technology to make it easier than ever to locate and contact Congressional representatives.  Inspired by the SOPA opposition, three computer science students have developed Grassroutes, a service that lets sites create a customized widget that identifies the Congressional delegation of an individual user — derived automatically from IP address or manually via ZIP code — and provides the representatives’ contact information: Facebook, Twitter, email, and phone, complete with a button letting users click to call from inside the browser.

In the meantime, feel free to use this link to reach out to your member of Congress to express your concerns.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.