Why You Need to Care About SOPA

If you didn’t notice the black outs happening across the web yesterday, it’s probably because you were playing hooky from your computer. If you haven’t heard the buzz going on about SOPA it’s probably because you don’t watch or listen to news…or read the web…or…well…let’s just say it’s been everywhere lately. But even with all the buzz and all the “SOPA is bad” talk going around, a lot of people are still very unclear on what it all means and why companies like SugarSpun oppose it. We thought we’d take a few minutes to put up a post and share some background and our stance.

What are SOPA and PIPA?

If you aren’t familiar with SOPA and PIPA, here’s the one minute recap. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) was introduced last October in the House in an attempt to crack down on copyright infringement on the web. PIPA (Protect IP Act) is the Senate’s version of the bill. Free speech advocates are concerned about the implications of some of the word choices within the bills. There are concerns over who exactly is responsible or any potential infringement and how the accusations will be handled.

Clay Shirky gives you the background and brief on SOPA in less than 15 minutes in a great video from TED.

Some of the best points Shirky makes are on the motivation behind SOPA and the change in competition for eyeballs over the past several decades.

A few decades ago, there was almost no competition for publishers and media companies. Sure, there were newsletters going out in the mail and short wave radio programs sharing alternative viewpoints, but it wasn’t until the maturation of the Internet that anyone…literally anyone could publish their thoughts and build an audience for free. The Internet is what finally put Johannes Gutenberg’s Printing Revolution into the hands of the public. A homeless man can walk into a free library and use a free computer to access a free blog service to publish his thoughts for the world. The barrier to entry is zero.

That’s not good news for the people who make their money putting out content. The more points of view being shared, the more competition for attention there is.

What Was With the Black-out Yesterday?

Consumer driven content sites like Wikipedia stand to lose the most should SOPA go into effect as written. You can find an interview with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales over at CNN. After explaining why the team at Wikipedia voted to go dark in protest of SOPA, he goes on to make some excellent points about the attempts to introduce new legislation to combat online piracy.

Within the U.S. the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF) notice-and-takedown provisions have worked very well. The question of whether foreign sites pose a legitimate problem is I think something that has not be sufficiently studied. It is a valid question. But when it comes to First Amendment concerns, censoring the Internet is never going to be the right answer. The right answer would be something like the alternative OPEN Act. I’m not necessarily supporting that one, but I’m saying, ‘Gee, we need to take a look at other possibilities here.’ We also need to take a look at whether this is the right thing to be worrying about in the first place. One of the things that we know is that spending on entertainment is actually up. So I view this as a bit of a power grab for Hollywood, crying wolf over something that’s not as big of a problem as they make it out to be.
Jimmy Wales – Wikipedia Co-Founder

Ok, That’s Nice..But Really, What’s the Big Deal?

If you’re still wondering what all the fuss is about, head on over to Gizmodo and read their super simple explanation of the problems with SOPA. This is the section that should REALLY catch your attention:

Perhaps the most galling thing about SOPA in its original construction is that it let IP owners take these actions without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. All it required was a single letter claiming a “good faith belief” that the target site has infringed on its content. Once Google or PayPal or whoever received the quarantine notice, they would have five days to either abide or to challenge the claim in court. Rights holders still have the power to request that kind of blockade, but in the most recent version of the bill the five day window has softened, and companies now would need the court’s permission.

And if that didn’t do it, think about it from this perspective:

SOPA also includes an “anti-circumvention” clause, which holds that telling people how to work around SOPA is nearly as bad as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. And if Google, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, etc. let it stand? They face a government “enjoinment.” They could and would be shut down.

The resources it would take to self-police are monumental for established companies, and unattainable for start-ups. SOPA would censor every online social outlet you have, and prevent new ones from emerging.

What’s Our Take on all this?

Here at SugarSpun, we’re concerned about SOPA. We’re concerned about anything that tries to add new layers and laws and enforcement to something that is already illegal and enforceable. Piracy is already illegal. Piracy can already be fought. This new law doesn’t change that, it simply changes the enforcement. Changing the enforcement has the unfortunate side effect of making life more difficult for everyone online who ISN’T breaking the law. As a small business, we’re also concerned about anything that puts us in a position to have to spend money to defend ourselves when we’ve done nothing wrong. The power handed out by SOPA could put us into that very position.

Jen has had her share of run-ins with bullies who wanted to claim copyright infringement to get their way. She fought them off. But she had the community and social media on her side for that fight. The next time around, it might not be such a humorous topic and help might not be so available. We don’t want to see our clients placed in these situations either and we certainly don’t want the bread and butter of our marketing efforts (social networks) to be damaged.

Piracy is wrong. But this is not the way to fix it.

What Can You Do?

The great news is support is already dwindling for the bill. Mashable reported yesterday that PIPA co-sponsor Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch have all pulled their names from the bill. SOPA co-sponsor Arizona Rep. Ben Quayl also pulled his name. Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry have also announced plans to pull their names from PIPA and SOPA as well.

While this is great news, SOPA’s lead sponsor, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith stands by the bill and intends to move it forward.

There are several things you can do at this point in the game:

About author:

Jennifer Evans Cario is the author of Pinterest Marketing: An Hour a Day, serves as Social Media Faculty Chair for Market Motive and is the founder and President of SugarSpun Marketing. Recognized as an industry leader in content driven social media strategies, Jennifer is known for using real language and a common sense approach that delivers solid results while still allowing her clients to fully understand and participate in the process. A popular speaker, Jen logs dozens of engagements each year at everything from marketing industry events to industry vertical trade shows to in-house corporate training events.

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