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Thousands of miles away, politicians who most of us have never heard of have developed a bill that is affectionately referred to as SOPA – Stop Online Piracy Act. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a massive issue. They have been elected to define and uphold the laws of the land , that’s their prerogative – if constituents don’t like it, they can vote them out.
Unfortunately, in their infinite wisdom, American lawmakers appear to be set on governing the Internet and all intellectual property therein. So whether you operate in North America, Europe, Asia or Africa, SOPA and the oft overlooked (but equally important) PIPA bills, which are due to be voted on imminently, could impact your business.
If you want the long-winded explanation for why it’s so important and the ramifications of both bills, cast your eyes over my post from yesterday. However, unless you’ve only just switched on your computer or have ventured online for the first time in a while, the issue won’t have slipped your attention.
Today, Wikipedia and Reddit have gone for a full blackout and many other sites have followed suit to denounce SOPA. This protest movement has been designed to raise awareness and also show the ridiculousness of the situation to the wider world and, more particularly, the politicians who are readying to vote on the issue.
Copyright infringement and piracy are massive problems, losing businesses and governments billions in revenue every year. However, SOPA and PIPA are the most radical solutions devised to date. Rather than going after the source, lawmakers want to hit blogs and websites found to be hosting any such material. Whether you have ripped off an entire film or are just using an image for illustrative purposes, contravening American copyright law could see your site banned. This will increase censorship and decrease freedoms that we have all become accustomed to.
Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and LinkedIn will have to review everything that users publish, censoring or removing wherever required. Websites will have to make sure that people leaving comments don’t include links to any such material or include copyrighted images. Essentially, it will be a massive headache for everybody, not least those who are supposed to enforce this law.
Whether it will get passed or not remains to be seen. SOPA looks like it might be losing a little bit of its lustre, but PIPA is still getting some attention. To find out more about the former, Wired have written a useful guide. For a more light-hearted (and less wordy) explanation, The Oatmeal has put together a special page as part of its blackout.
It’s a mess, pure and simple. It shouldn’t pass, but if it does, there could be huge implications for businesses and individuals the world over. So if you don’t know about it now, you soon will.