SOPA: What’s Bad for the Internet is Bad for Marketers

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In reality, the Stop Online Piracy Act promises to impede pirates very little while potentially penalizing legitimate ecommerce businesses. When you look closer at the language and provisions of SOPA, you see that it could fundamentally change some of the common things you do as a marketer or merchant.

As an online marketer (or even just as someone who uses the Internet), surely you must be aware of the huge firestorm surrounding pending legislation called SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act (and also similar legislation called PIPA, the Protect Intellectual Property Act).

If you’re not, let this be your call to get informed quickly.

I want to focus on what SOPA means for marketers, but you may need some basic background info on what’s in this legislation – so I’ll point you to Wikipedia (one of the key voices in this fight) for a lot of history and details.

Essentially, the legislation was proposed and designed to stop the proliferation of online piracy by expanding the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight it. Who wants these protections? Content-owners, content-creators, broadcasters, and publishers across music, film, entertainment, sports and publishing.

Gizmodo published a list of all the organizations that support SOPA, and there are some heavyweights in those categories. Makes sense from their perspective.

However, the fear of a similarly impressive list of companies and individuals opposing SOPA is that it contains far-reaching criteria that could damage unaware and legitimate companies and individuals. The opposition includes a “who’s who” of technology firms and other high-profile experts, from AOL to Google to – yes, even a publisher and content owner – the New York Times.

Now, who’s not against piracy? Answer: nobody except pirates who profit from it. So on the surface you’d think legislation like SOPA would make a ton of sense. And it does.

However, in reality this particular bill promises to impede pirates very little while potentially penalizing legitimate businesses. When you look closer at the language and provisions of SOPA, you see that it could fundamentally change some of the common things you do as a marketer or retailer.

How? Why? What would happen? Here’s the brief snapshot.

Your website becomes a big bullseye
And in the wrong way. If a copyright owner flags your site as guilty of copyright infringement, a judge could shut down your site immediately. Not only that, but ad networks and payment processors wouldn’t be allowed to do business with your site. On top of that, search engines would be prohibited from listing your site in search results, and ISPs could be forced to block access to your site.

And here’s the best part – all that could be triggered through no fault of your own. A simple blog comment or product rating posted by a user could contain infringing material, yet since your site hosts it, you’re targeted for penalty.

Would you moderate or sanitize every user post or product rating? How would you ensure competitors don’t post infringing content on your site to get it shut down? Would you be ready to react immediately and fight back through the legal system (at a cost, no doubt) if your site is shut down?

For businesses big and small, those are some of the questions you’d have to find answers to.

Social outposts evaporate
The very nature of social media is built upon sharing information. It would be impossible for mainstream social outposts like Facebook or Twitter to sanitize literally millions of links posted and shared every day. Yet if they didn’t do that, they could be labeled as hosts to any infringing content that’s posted and be subject to any or all of the penalties described above. Translation: good bye social media.

SEO stands for Search Engine Omission
For starters, search engines could block your site if your site is flagged as hosting infringing content. Your SEO efforts could also be hurt when you lose inbound links to other sites that are shut down. And if social networks restrict what users can post or are shut down, you would have less social content that gets indexed. Bottom line: a lot of negative impact to search marketing.

There are other elements of SOPA that don’t feel right and have negative potential impact for marketers – such as legal immunity for ISPs that block access to websites. Say you own a website that competes with an ISP-owned site, or you write a blog post that slams an ISP. What if they say that you host infringing content in order to get your site blocked from their users? Would you trust them not to do that? Would you blame them for using this tactic if the law says it’s within their power?

Here’s your mission for today: get more informed about SOPA right now. If passed, it promises to change your job, your business, the way you approach marketing, and the Internet as you know it.

Glenn L. Laudenslager IV is president of Charge Ahead Marketing and former marketing director for brands in publishing, events and healthcare. Tell him what you think about SOPA @ChargeAheadMktg.


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