by Chris Horton
Matt Cutts announced on Twitter today that Google would discuss the details on SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). To add to the energy, Wikipedia has announced that they are going to go black tomorrow to oppose SOPA. There has been a wealth of talk about it and many still don’t fully grasp what it even is or why they should even care. But for anyone that posts content online, it’s a big deal.
SOPA is basically a legislation designed very simply to stop online piracy. Essentially it allows police, authorities, and copyright holders to be able to get court orders that will essentially force service providers (Comcast, AOL, etc.), hosting providers (GoDaddy, BlueGator, etc.), payment services (Paypal, 2Checkout, etc.) and search engines (really?) to literally shut off or stop doing business with websites that they allege are stealing or even enabling potential copyright infringement.
While it seems good in theory in order to curb online pirating of music, movies, files, and the like, there’s something much more sinister in the background. The biggest target would be torrent sites that facilitate illegal distribution of files such as PirateBay, ISOHunt, and similar sites. But other sites that have user generated content like Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook could be shut down if SOPA gets enacted.
A site could be removed from the search engines, have their advertising revenue yanked, payment processing blocked, website shut off and even up to 5 years of prison time if someone alleges that a site is in violation and gets a court order against them. It also gives the government a LOT of power over what can and can’t be posted online. An example that may hit closer to home would be if you posted a photo on your blog that you acquired somewhere online and that you believed to be “free to use”. If the person that owns the rights to that photo (even indirectly) decides that you’ve violated their copyright, they can get a court order to put all of those aforementioned detrimental factors into play on your very own website. If you’re in a competitive industry, one of your competitors could reasonably shut you down over a photo buried on your site thousands of pages deep.
While it may seem far fetched, SOPA makes that completely possible. SOPA has a laundry list of big name opponents including Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Youtube, Mozilla and many others. Google is exceptionally concerned because of the fact that there are many anti-Google folks just itching to tie them to something potentially copyrighted that could cause a lot of problems for the search giant. Hosting and domain megamart GoDaddy initially supported the SOPA project, but customers pulled over 72,000 domains from the registrar and moved them elsewhere as a result. GoDaddy got the point quickly and immediately pulled support once it truly understood the ramifications of the SOPA bill.
So tomorrow, Google will officially weigh in on SOPA, Wikipedia will go black (among others as well) and we’ll potentially get more details on where they stand. Actually, we know where they stand. It’s where you should stand. Even if you think SOPA won’t affect you, you’d be shocked how much it would impact your online experience. It’s a bad, bad idea.