If your small business has never been involved in anything that infringed on a trademark or copyright, the recent frenzy over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) may have escaped your notice. It doesn’t apply to businesses like yours, right?
You may be wrong about that.
SOPA is good news for the entertainment industry and its related industries. It allows copyright and trademark holders to contact advertisers and others who do business with sites that encourage or even allow infringement to ask them to stop. There is no requirement that those copyright holders contact the offending businesses first.
While, for many, this may seem like a great idea, Google’s policy counsel warned lawmakers that the legislation could have ramifications for innocent companies that provide a storefront for a wide variety of small businesses. With a large site like Amazon or eBay, even taking proactive measures to ensure pirated merchandise is never sold is not failproof.
Additionally, there would be no way to determine that the person reporting the piracy was being truthful. “A corporation, a copyright troll, or anyone with an axe to grind could send a notice…without first involving law enforcement or triggering any judicial process,” Google’s Katherine Oyama said.
While Google was the only business speaking publicly against the act, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and others ran ads against SOPA. The law could impact any business with ties to copyright or trademark infringement. YouTube, for instance, is made up of millions of videos posted by people throughout the world. Copyrighted material is posted every single day even though the site makes every effort to remove any content that has been requested to be removed. Members often stream these videos on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, with neither of those sites policing members’ pages to remove offending material. All of the above mentioned sites have a business impact if complaints are lodged with advertisers, but the general public is more concerned about the long-term ramifications. Is this beginning an Internet censorship that will change the way we surf?
For small start-ups, investors are watching this as well. According to the Huffington Post, investors responded negatively to a survey on the issue, stating overwhelmingly that they would not invest in a company that had the potential for lawsuits related to SOPA.
The Motion Picture Association of America and the Business Software Alliance have been mentioned as supporting SOPA. Microsoft and Apple are both members of BSA, although Microsoft is rumored to be quietly opposing the bill. The bill, which is currently before Congress, has been scheduled for markup on Dec. 15 of this year. Protest sites like American Censorship Day are popping up to help educate and unite those against the legislation.