Today is the official SOPA and PIPA protest day, and several websites, including Wikipedia and Google, have either gone dark or blacked out their logos in protest of two pieces of pending legislation aimed to stop the sale and distribution of copyrighted pirated music, movies, and physical goods.
I knew that this was coming, of course, but it didn’t really hit home until I woke up this morning, and Wikipedia was gone, replaced by a black screen and a message. Craigslist, while not blacked out, had a similar message, as did Google and Amazon.
The names of these bills make them sound like good things, and it’s true that the vast majority of those who oppose SOPA and PIPA are against online piracy. If passed, however, these bills would do a lot more than help to stop the sale of illegally manufactured, stolen, or pirated goods online. A lot more.
Google blacks out its logo to protest SOPA and PIPA
SOPA ( Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are two bills that focus on the issue of online piracy. While both of these bills are focused on stopping foreign websites from copyright infringement in the form of media piracy, and also the sale of counterfeit consumer goods by websites hosted outside of the United States, SOPA’s provisions are more far reaching.
SOPA, which is currently before the US House of Representatives, and PIPA which is before the Senate would essentially allow the US Attorney General to censor sites out of the jurisdiction of the US Government if the AG determines that these sites are guilty of copyright infringement/theft of copyrighted material or goods.
If either of these bills pass as they stand, the ability of the average person to use the Internet to view YouTube videos, read articles on Wikipedia, link to other websites from their social media profiles and their own websites, and even conduct business online could be severely impacted.
Wikipedia goes black to protest SOPA and PIPA
How do these bills affect ecommerce sites? The language of both bills, and SOPA in particular is very broad, and the power granted to the US Attorney General is extremely far reaching. The AG could, with a court order, legally order payment providers to discontinue services with sites that are found or even suspected of infringing on copyrights. This same court order could also force search engines to stop displaying links to these sites.
Keep in mind, these penalties would apply to websites that have been accused of infringing on copyrights, or selling pirated media or counterfeited products. Regardless of whether or not any infringement or illegal activity has taken place, and if it has, regardless of whether or not it was done intentionally.
Remember what I said about SOPA and PIPA affecting our ability to post, share, and view content on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and similar sites? Under SOPA, if someone posts a comment on your blog and includes a link to copyrighted content, you could be held liable for their actions. Your site could be shut down, you could face fines, and even possible jail time, all because of the actions of someone else.
Craigslist protests SOPA and PIPA
What You Can Do
As with any issue, the most important thing that anyone can do is to learn everything that they can about SOPA and PIPA and how they affect them. Many online businesses have also posted messages about SOPA and PIPA on their homepages, and have linked to sites that provide more information and to online petitions.
We’ll be monitoring this issue closely over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, what do you think about this issue? Leave a comment and let us know.