2012 is shaping up to be a bang-up year in internet marketing–probably the best year ever!  But there’s a fly in the soup: SOPA.  The chilling possibility that SOPA could actually pass through congress is enough to send a chill up any internet marketer’s spine.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has divided the Internet more deeply than any other issue to date and could be voted into law later this month when Congress reconvenes for its second session.

The bill, introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) last October, “expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods”. Specifically, it targets what Hollywood calls “rogue sites” which display, host, link to or sell material protected under United States copyright law. HOWEVER, SOPA MAY BE LESS A LASER BEAM FOCUSED ON A PARTICULAR TARGET AND MORE A CANNONBALL SET TO DESTROY THE INTERNET.

Though the bill claims to target criminals who profit from the theft of copyrighted material (either through ads on a streaming site or selling DVDs of past Super Bowls), the language of the bill is so broad that the cold eye of Justice could be leveled against almost anyone who is alleged to have infringed on a copyright. Internet service providers will be obligated to shut down websites that offend the broad rubric of “criminal offences”. Offenders in other countries will be captured and put on trial in America.

The message is clear: “If you copy or steal American intellectual property, we will get you.”

SOPAIf all this was done in the name of protecting the copyright and intellectual property of creatives, it’s likely there would be no hubbub. The problem is that SOPA opens the door to rampant and unchecked Internet blacklisting. Offenders could be people who use a song in a YouTube video without permission from the artist (read: 90% of YouTube), millions of Tumblr posts displaying photos and artwork without citing the artist. It’s important to protect one’s work, but prosecuting teens for posting a photo of Johnny Depp they did not purchase from the photographer is an unreasonable measure.

Copywriters across the board will also come into the line of fire, which poses a threat to a large sector of online business. Affiliate marketers, guest posters and those in email marketing could inadvertently link to or post material not compliant with SOPA and bring themselves or their employers to court or to the top of a blacklist. Politico reports that some bloggers believe SOPA will drive them to extinction.

The conservative and liberal blogospheres are unifying behind opposition to Congress’s Stop Online Piracy Act, with right-leaning bloggers arguing their very existence could be wiped out if the anti-piracy bill passes.

“If either the U.S. Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) & the U.S. House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) become law, political blogs such as Red Mass Group

[conservative] & Blue Mass Group [liberal] will cease to exist,” wrote a blogger at Red Mass Group.

Some have asserted that the controversial measures would criminalize pages and blogs that link to foreign websites dedicated to online piracy. In particular, this has concerned search engines like Google, which could face massive liability if some form of the bill passes, some say.

The Internet has always been a laissez-faire environment. Even today, in its sophisticated but still-evolving form, there is something a little bit wild about the Internet. A promise of being able to do or find anything is liberating and sometimes sinister, but is always there and should remain. Piracy on the Internet is a smoldering problem, but SOPA is a bucket of cold gasoline being mistaken for water.



About the Author:

Thomas Stone is a freelance writer and frequent contributor at http://BigFishSmallBowl.com

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