How SOPA Could Ruin Your Online Business
It's amazing. Congress could ruin your online business. What a shocker. A new proposed bill, called the "Stop Online Piracy Act," or SOPA, is aimed at combating piracy. On the surface, these seems fantastic. Proponents of the bill are pitching it as a great way to stop intellectual property theft.
All of this isn't to imply that your business relies on stealing other people's content. of course, if you're a content scraper, then you probably deserve to be put out of business. The problem for the rest of us legitimate businesspeople is that the proposed bill has broad and far-reaching implications. Since the bill proposes to force ISPs to shut down and remove offending sites, it could mean that your Internet business could literally be wiped off the face of the Internet if you are accused of stealing content.
As long as you don't steal content, you should be safe, right? Wrong. If you aggregate content from other sites, you could potentially be accused of stealing content. This, in turn, could land you in hot water with your ISP. On top of that, companies like Google would be forced to remove you from search engine results pages, and Paypal would be forced to refuse to do business with you. Finally, the bill would allow content owners to sue you for damaged.
So far, the bill hasn't had enough support to pass. However, if this bill passes, and you're not on top of your game, you may find yourself looking for a new job inside of six months.
Doesn't DCMA Already Protect Content Owners?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was originally designed to just protect content owners by requiring ISPs to take down the offending content only. The DCMA does not mandate entire websites be taken down, nor does the law mandate removal of offending sites from search engine results pages or bar other businesses from doing business with you.
Google already has a "request for content removal" tool. This tool could be circumvented with the new SOPA law, however.
What Can You Do To Protect Yourself?
If the law passes, there's nothing you can do to stop someone from accusing you of stealing content. Your best bet would be to reassess your content acquisition strategy right now. Work on removing those spun articles you've been posting all over the Internet.
Services that offer article spinning and distribution could go the way of the dinosaur, and you may want to reconsider any business relationships you have with them. Even if you think these services spit out unique content, the truth is that if you run most of these spun articles through a really good plagiarism checker (like the ones colleges use to catch students who buy term papers), they will come back as being only 30 percent (or less) unique.
Once you have been accused of piracy, the only thing you can do is explain why the request for removal from search results, an ISP ban, etc. is not justified. You'll have 7 days to do this. However, if you've ever been hit with a search engine penalty before, you know the consequences it has. Even if you're found to be innocent, it usually takes a while to claw your way back to the top position you previously held. Sometimes, you just never recover.
How Does This Protect Honest People?
The cruelty of this proposed bill is that it doesn't protect honest people, only honest thieves. Opposition to the bill argues that the bad guys will just move to another ISP, change hosting companies, fake user names, addresses and anything else necessary to reopen their doors. That argument certainly makes sense. After all, they're already thieves. Would it really bother them, morally, if they were liars too?
Who's Behind This Law Anyway?
The bill was introduced back in October of this year by Republican Lamar Smith from Texas. It was initially co-sponsored by Howard Berman (D-CA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Steve Chabot (R-OH), John Conyers (D-MI), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Timothy Griffin (R-AR), Dennis A. Ross (R-FL), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Lee Terry (R-NE).
Of course, some industries do support this bill, like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. However, companies like Google, Linked In, and Ebay are speaking out against this bill since it would significantly affect their business model and fundamentally change how their business would be run.
The opposition claims that the language contained in SOPA would deny website owners the right to due process of law, would stifle innovation for companies like Google, Paypal, Ebay, and other businesses that grew up in a relatively free and unregulated Internet. It would also give the U.S. Government the power to censor the web using techniques similar to what China, Malaysia, and Iran use and fundamentally change the basic structure of the Internet.
What Can You Do?
You'll have to take action if you enjoy the way you do business now. If you want the Internet to remain free, you can write to your Congressman, or you can sign a petition opposing the bill. Gary Price has also posted up a long list of links about SOPA on marketingland.com. If you do nothing, and the Internet becomes censored, then you have no one to blame but yourself.
SOPA: An Architecture for Censorship | Cato @ Liberty
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