What has always made America great is its ability to lead the world in innovation. That innovation may be at risk of being censored as Congress considers legislation titled the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The legislation is meant to help protect American innovation by punishing off-shore copyright infringers, but unfortunately this legislation will ultimately punish the very innovation it’s intended to protect.
I try to avoid taking political stances (it tends to be bad business), but if SOPA is passed, it would stifle free enterprise in an industry that is leading American innovation. I was surprised to see that this legislation is supported largely by pro-business legislators and organizations; groups I might normally endorse. As an entrepreneur, I fail to understand supporters’ shortsightedness on this issue. Don’t misunderstand me, websites that knowingly pirate content should be punished, but the current SOPA bill is so broad that innocent websites could get swept into the fray.
The legislation is structured in such a way that if a copyright infringement claim is submitted on a piece of content, the entire website will be investigated. During this investigation the entire website in question would be blocked. For example, if a pirated video makes its way onto YouTube and an infringement claim is submitted, YouTube.com will shutdown in its entirety during the investigation. Additionally, YouTube could be held liable for hosting that illegal content. This increased risk of liability litigation would lead to the destruction of the user-generated content movement that has been so important to the Internet’s growth over the past few years.
Moreover, the FBI’s servers need to be able to access and shutdown any suspected websites of infringement. This means that security standards that been implemented in recent years to protect consumers’ privacy would have to be rolled back, leaving millions of consumers at risk.
Big companies like YouTube, Google and Facebook may have the financial wherewithal to endure a piracy infringement claim, but smaller tech startups wouldn’t be able to afford an investigation, even if the claim turns out to be false. A website shutdown means lost revenue and expensive legal fees, a deadly combination for startups. How can legislation like this promote economic growth? At such an important time in our economy, we cannot afford to stifle innovation and free enterprise. The rest of the Internet largely agrees.
Today, the Internet united to protest SOPA. In an act of solidarity, dozens of high-profile websites have expressed their opposition to the bill. Each website took a stand in their own unique way, but the message was always the same: SOPA would kill the Internet and the innovation that fuels it. Turntable.fm’s anti-SOPA statement was subtle but strong. Google dedicated its iconic Doodle to state its opposition to the bill. In a more bold statement, Wikipedia actually shut down their entire website, dramatically demonstrating how SOPA might affect the Web.
Content pirates will always find ways to circumvent the system; they’ve been doing it for decades. The only accomplishment of this bill would be to punish the companies that are growing our economy. There has to be a better way to investigate and punish these pirates; SOPA is definitely not the answer. What do you think?