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SOPA – what is it and how will it affect me?

SOPA is a US government attempt to tackle online piracy – but it hurts businesses

The term ‘SOPA’ has been major news recently and it’s little wonder why when you consider just what it is all about. SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act which is quickly moving through the US Congress. It is a bill that is focused on giving the government power to shut down sites that provide illegal content, such as those that provide movie and music downloads. The difficulty the US has with this is that many of these sites are outside their jurisdiction and cannot be prosecuted under such laws. To combat this, the passing of SOPA will allow the US government to:

  • Provide internet providers with the right to block their customers from accessing sites that provide illegal content
  • Allow companies to sue websites that promote illegal content. This includes search engines, blogs, social media sites and forums
  • Cut funds provided by American companies through advertising and donations provided to sites displaying illegal content

Whilst these seem like positive advancements for the affected businesses, there are a number of holes in SOPA that could have a detrimental impact on internet usage and is likely to hurt many businesses plying their trade online. Needless to say, many businesses and users are complaining about this new bill.

What will be the results if SOPA is passed?

It’s likely that, if passed, SOPA will change the entire way we use the internet. Major websites such as Google and Facebook will be crippled due to the fact that they won’t be able to regulate the content they promote. Under SOPA, Facebook could be sued as a result of one of their users posting up a YouTube link that is infringing copyright laws. Similarly, Google will be faced with the impossible task of regulating everything that shows up in its search results.

It’s a loophole in the act that will see pioneering websites fall to their knees. Sites like Soundcloud, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube and more will be technically infringing copyrights and displaying illegal content in some way or another, putting them directly in SOPA’s crosshairs. Even the next generation of game-changing internet start-ups will be put under pressure from the outset, hindering the type of internet development and progression that has revolutionised the way we live today.

Even if the US government is reserved in its use of SOPA, other governments that are likely to follow suit may not be. In the wrong hands, the laws outlined in this act could be used to seriously inhibit people’s internet usage. There are also many concerns and complaints that the internet will become less secure due to continued meddling with domains names. Less security means more risk for those using the internet the right way.

How will SOPA impact Australian businesses?

Australia has close ties to the USA when it comes to Internet laws, so you can be sure that if America passes SOPA, Australia will follow with something similar. For Australian business, this will mean that internet advertising will be severely hindered. SEO relies on search engine performance and under SOPA, this will be restricted. Content generation by websites will need to be completely unique to ensure no infringement is in place.

Companies will need to be sure that any links to their websites are from legitimate sources that contain no illegal content. Google indexing will need to be majorly changed which will result in longer wait times for improved rankings. Ultimately, it will mean a much more stringent existence that could see sites penalised for doing little wrong.

As Australia is also geographically disconnected from the rest of the world, the internet has played a major part in fostering international business growth and overseas partnerships – something that may well come under threat with this new legislation.

For Australian companies looking to advertise and generate business online, SOPA is a definite no.