If you are a small business looking at my website, chances are that you have or would like to have a website.
You may have heard about the SOPA/PIPA blackout to take place today, January 18, 2012. Big websites like Wikipedia are shutting down service for the day as a way to protest the federal “Stop Online Piracy Act” legislation.
Should this concern you as a small business? Yes and no.
Let’s start with no. Most likely, if you have a simple website advertising or selling a legitimate product, the federal government will not shut you down. You will be relatively oblivious to this legislation.
However, you’re not completely immune either. This legislation will result in the censorship of Google search results in a way that will undoubtedly favor businesses larger than yours. If you have a blog, or social media platform that you use to link to other businesses, news articles, websites, etc., it could mean trouble for you. If you mistakenly link to a website, that happens to have a link on their page to another website that offers illegal materials, your website could be censored from search results as a sort of co-conspirator, whether you intended to link users to the illegal content or not.
The legislation is aimed at limiting access to illegal materials (mostly pirated big-label movies and music), by shutting down websites that serve the content and censoring search results to make the content more difficult to find. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but there are two things to consider:
1) The legislation is ambiguous, and you could easily become the accidental but necessary waste in the bureaucratic machine. This legislation could easily throw the baby out with the bath water.
2) If you have a website that you rely on for income, the free, unregulated passage of information on the internet is important to your livelihood. The sky is not falling, but this is a big foot in the door for the government to begin heavily regulating all facets of internet communication.
It’s not my intention to motivate you to political action. But as a business with a website, or a business considering an online presence, it’s important to be aware of this legislation. If you have any questions, please contact me and I’ll be happy to point you to the best resource I can find.
You can find more information about the SOPA legislation on Wikipedia.