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24 Ways that SOPA and PIPA would affect SEO, Internet Marketing, Internet-based Jobs and Companies in the Philippines and Around the World

Author: Fern Carlos

Posted: February 3, 2012

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Heated debates over the proposed bills Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States House of Representatives and Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S.  Senate came to a head recently when tech and Internet companies like Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Wordpress, Reddit and more than 10,000 websites held a blackout to protest the two pending bills.

SOPA and PIPA are being presented by their supporters as efforts to stamp out piracy or copyright infringement, particularly those committed by foreign websites.  Opponents, however, have said that these bills are not just unnecessary "given the existence of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)" but that they also pose security risks to the Internet; stunt innovation; cause the erosion of due process; threaten free speech; and block the free flow of information, jeopardizing the very fundamentals of the Internet itself.

The New York Times' Rebecca MacKinnon, in her article "Stop the Great Firewall of America," has described the bills and their effects as heading the way of China's system of Internet censorship.  "The intention is not the same as China's Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship," MacKinnon said.  "But the practical effect could be similar."

Exactly how far-reaching are these proposed bills? And how will they affect Internet-based or Internet-dependent jobs and companies outside the United States? What are their impacts on the SEO, Internet Marketing and BPO companies in countries like the Philippines, which rely heavily on several US-based websites?

HERE ARE JUST SOME OF THE WAYS:

  1. SOPA and PIPA would profoundly affect how the Internet is used.  And I mean all of it. And it doesn't matter where in the world you live or where your site is hosted.  As the blog entry "SOPA/PIPA Blackout" on The Guardian said, these restrictive bills would affect how you use the Internet if you use blogs, if you use Wikipedia, if you use social media sites and if you use search engines.  Think about it.  These laws can block sites, de-list entire websites and affect search engines -- that's changing the face of the Internet right there.
  2. The bills endanger the security of the Internet. Union Square Ventures' Brad Burnham, along with 53 fellow venture capitalists, sent a letter to lawmakers stating that the laws "requiring access to sites to be blocked by Domain Name System (DNS) providers endanger the security and integrity of the Internet." Julie Ahrens, on her blog entry for the Stanford Law School website also said that "SOPA breaks the Internet's infrastructure." "By tampering with the Domain Name System (DNS), SOPA breaks Internet security and encourages the development of an insecure, offshore pirate DNS."

    As we know, a less secure Internet is bad for any Internet-dependent business.

  3. If U.S.  web users are the target audience of your Internet-based business, you will be in for a long, tough ride given all the severe restrictions.
  4. The bills will affect the big tech companies.  And, because the Internet is an ecosystem of links; what affects big tech companies will have a trickle down effect on your company. As the blog entry "How will SOPA and PIPA affect your SEO strategy?" pointed out on seooutsourcingchick.com:

    "Because on big sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube (etc.) are posted daily millions of links from users, but under the bill, these sites would literally be unable to function, as the amount of copyright infringing content that gets posted would be completely beyond their control.  So this will also affect smaller businesses that owe most of their popularity and recognition on the real market to these big sites!"

  5. Less companies to do business with, less opportunities. SOPA and PIPA will pose heavy financial burdens and legal risks for many companies and the smaller ones and start-ups will be hit hard because, as Wikipedia also pointed out in its statement against SOPA and PIPA, these smaller sites "won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves." The less sites there are left to do business with and to link with, the less opportunities for Internet-based and Internet-dependent companies anywhere in the world.
  6. There will be fewer US start-ups and new companies, which would mean fewer opportunities for Internet-based companies. The decrease in start-ups would come about because, as the blog entry "How SOPA will affect Internet businesses?" on binwiz.com explained, "Entrepreneurs would invest less, if they invest at all.  In fact one study that interviewed 200 venture capitalist and angle investors revealed that nearly all would stop funding digital media intermediaries if SOPA became law.  Entrepreneurs may be afraid that they would spend more on lawyers and litigation than they would on hiring and innovation."

    Ahrens, in her Stanford Law School website blog entry entitled "Stop Censorship: The Problems with SOPA," stressed that SOPA kills innovation.  "By vastly increasing the risks associated with hosting user-generated content, SOPA will make it far more difficult to start new internet companies.  If SOPA had been the law, it is doubtful that Facebook or YouTube would have been able to launch."

  7. Sites can be neutralized with lawsuits and allegations of infringement. In the blog entry "The Real SOPA Battle: Innovators vs.  Goliath" on the Harvard Business Review website, James Allworth and Maxwell Wessel explained how an otherwise extremely competitive website can be neutralized: "this legislation because they're aware it will tip the finely tuned balance of creative destruction against start-ups and very much in favor of companies unwilling to embrace change.  For example, Viacom has been locked in a legal fight with YouTube, so far, unsuccessfully.  If SOPA were to become law, however, Viacom would be able to entirely shut down YouTube's revenue stream while the case was in court.  Balance tipped."
  8. Sites can be blocked, taken out or shut down in the U.S. Ahrens pointed out on her blog on the Stanford Law School website, "The proposed legislation also gives the Attorney General and the Justice Department the power to shut down websites before they are actually judged infringing."

    Also:
    "Courts would be able to order any Internet service provider to stop recognizing an accused site immediately upon application by the Attorney General, after an ex parte hearing.  By failing to guarantee the challenged websites notice or an opportunity to be heard in court before their sites are shutdown, SOPA violates due process."

  9. Your Internet-based company or your website/s can also be stopped from doing business with US-based sites because SOPA/PIPA allows content owners to stop advertising and online payment. Payment processors and online advertising network may be ordered to stop doing business with sites, yes "including those from outside the U.S." that are allegedly committing copyright infringement.  Trevor Timm, in his blog entry "How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation" on eff.org explained, "PIPA and SOPA also would allow copyright holders to get an unopposed court order to cut off foreign websites from payment processors and advertisers.  As we have continually highlighted, copyright holders already can remove infringing material from the web under the DMCA notice-and-takedown procedure.  Unfortunately, that power abused time and again.  Yet the proponents of PIPA and SOPA want to give rights holders even more power, allowing them to essentially shut down full sites instead of removing the specific infringing content."
  10. Sites can be unfairly blacklisted. SEOoutsourcingchick.com, on the blog entry "How will SOPA and PIPA affect your SEO strategy?," pointed out that "your website could be unfairly get shut down/blacklisted when the government or the owner of the copyrighted material identifies your website as hosting copyrighted material and falling guilty of copyright infringement."

    Some companies might also manipulate the loopholes in these laws and use them to create a sort of list of the sites that they would like to blocked or censored.  Trevor Timm, in his blog entry "How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation" posted on eff.org explained:

    "As we noted months ago, this provision would allow the MPAA and RIAA to create literal blacklists of sites they want censored.  Intermediaries would find themselves under pressure to act to avoid court orders, creating a vehicle for corporations to censor sites" even those in the U.S.  "without any legal oversight.  And as Public Knowledge has pointed out, not only could this provision be used for bogus copyright claims that are protected by fair use, but large corporations could take advantage of it to stamp out emerging competitors and skirt anti-trust laws."

  11. Sites will be forced to police their user-contributed content. This is a burden for the websites financially because it would require a significantly bigger workforce just to monitor and also because it increases risks of exposures to litigation even for Internet companies that are acting in good faith.

    Wikipedia gave this example:
    "in its current form, SOPA could require Wikipedia to actively monitor every site we link to, to ensure it doesn't host infringing content.  Any link to an infringing site could put us in jeopardy of being forced offline."

  12. Sites would have a tendency to over censor, over block. When sites do this, you would have a harder time linking to sites or even having your comments posted.  New York Times' MacKinnon warned of this added threat to free speech, when the websites themselves would begin to over censor or over block the contents on their own sites:

    Recent academic research on global Internet censorship has found that in countries where heavy legal liability is imposed on companies, employees tasked with day-to-day censorship jobs have a strong incentive to play it safe and over-censor, even in the case of content whose legality might stand a good chance of holding up in a court of law.  Why invite legal hassle when you can just hit "delete"?

    David Drummond, Google SVP Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer added in his post that this censorship of the web would "provide incentives for American companies to shut down, block access to and stop servicing U.S.  and foreign websites that copyright and trademark owners allege are illegal without any due process or ability of a wrongfully targeted website to seek restitution."

  13. Worse, sites may be encouraged to use the "Vigilante Provision." Trevor Timm, in his blog entry "How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation" posted on eff.org, has dubbed the "vigilante provision" an entry in PIPA and SOPA "that would grant broad immunity to all service providers if they over block innocent users or block sites voluntarily with no judicial oversight at all.  The standard for immunity is incredibly low and the potential for abuse is off the charts.  Intermediaries only need to act "in good faith" and base their decision "on credible evidence" to receive immunity."

    Timm gave this as an example of abuse of the provision:
    "For instance, an Internet service provider could block DNS requests for a website offering online video that competed with its cable television offerings, based upon "credible evidence" that the site was, in its own estimation, promoting its use for infringement....While the amendment requires that the action be taken in good faith, the blocked site now bears the burden of proving either its innocence or the bad faith of its accuser in order to be unblocked."

    Your website could be that online video website in the example.

  14. SOPA and PIPA would affect too many sites, including the social media sites. And if your Internet company, like SEO companies and Internet marketing firms, depend on social media sites, the game would change considerably.  Philippines Outsourcing Blog: 24 Ways that SOPA and PIPA would affect SEO, Internet Marketing, Internet-based Jobs and Companies in the Philippines and Around the WorldThe social media sites, carrying the burden of being liable for users' actions, would be forced to over-censor, be overly strict, or have an agonizingly slow process, or quite possibly, tend to just block or delete entries or links at the slightest indication of possible legal trouble.
  15. "Linking to other sites would be tedious, time consuming and could potentially force the company offline," according to Wikipedia. And after all that, there would still be no guarantee of exposure on US sites for your company or your product.
  16. Also according to Wikipedia, some foreign (or non-US) sites would be prevented from showing up in search engines. Let me say that again - your own site or other efforts for SEO or Internet Marketing may not appear in search engines as the pending bills could bar search engines from linking to certain sites.

    Sean Flynn at InfoJustice.org added that this kind of "search blocking" that was included in SOPA and PIPA is "widely regarded as Internet censorship."

    Timm also said in his blog entry posted on eff.org that the pending bills would empower the Attorney General to 'de-list websites from search engines, which, as Google Chairman Eric Schmidt noted, would still "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself."

  17. Wikipedia pointed out that big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for foreign competitors. Foreign competitors, of course, could be your company.
  18. There would be a climate of uncertainty and restrictions where, for example, all your SEO efforts for the day could just disappear at the drop of a hat; just like that. The law is too powerful, far-reaching and too vague and full of loopholes that could easily cause the shutdown of companies or entire websites.
  19. SOPA/PIPA could shut down/block blogs. So if your business depends on blogs, you would need a major rethink.  The pending bills would make it the responsibility of the blog owners in the U.S.  to police content, including those posted on the comments, for possible copyright infringement.  This makes the blogs vulnerable to lawsuits and the possibility of being blocked or shut down.
  20. The bills would drastically change search engine strategy and the industry surrounding it. With sites that can be de-listed on search engines, preventing the search engines from linking with them, SEO strategies will definitely have to be re-imagined.  Also, Union Square Ventures' Brad Burnham, in his blog entry "The PROTECT IP Act Will Slow Start-up Innovation" on usv.com, mentioned that SOPA and PIPA would give a "leg up to foreign (non-US) search engines, DNS providers, social networks and others."
  21. Online forums would be affected. And if your Internet-based company relies heavily on online forums, you would be hit hard by SOPA/PIPA, too.  Forums would carry the burden of policing the entire site, including posts and comments by forum members, for every possible copyright infringement.  A mistake could lead to being shut down or blocked.  And even malicious claims could do great damage.
  22. Video sites like YouTube would be affected. Again, if your Internet-based work depends on video sites, better be ready for a big change if SOPA and PIPA go through.
  23. Sharing and networking sites like blogspot.com, daily motion, and the like would be affected, again because of the burden that SOPA and PIPA would place on these sites. Such sites outside the US that face allegations of copyright infringement could be blocked in the U.S.  and they would also not be able to use commerce and ad lines.
  24. Suspension of sub domains. Julie Ahrens, on her blog on the Stanford Law School website, said that "ordering Internet service providers to remove any offending domain name would require the suppression of all sub-domains associated with the domain-- censoring thousands of individual websites with vast amounts of protected speech containing no infringing content."

WHAT HAPPENS NOW

As of now, SOPA and PIPA have stopped "temporarily" their march in both the Senate and the Congress.  After the protests, the White House released a statement that said, "While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

Both bills, however, are far from dead.  Their proponents plan to bring them up for mark-up next month.  Those who opposed SOPA and PIPA plan to "and should" remain vigilant so that the bills, as they are currently written, would not be passed.

Jim Hedger of Digital Always Media "as cited by Miranda Miller in her blog entry on searchenginewatch.com" said that the solution is to draft the bill with all parties represented.  "I'd like to see people who understand how the information works; I'd like to see a cross-section of people at the table.  Content creators, law professors, copyright holders, philosophers, the MPAA, and the RIAA, there's a place at the table for them," he said.  "Whoever makes the media products should be at the table, along with people who actually understand the environment.  It can't just be up to the copyright holders.  If it is, they're just protecting their own interests at the detriment of the consumers and Internet users."

The resulting bill/bills should ideally be a balance between the rights of creators of content (the copyright owners) and the rights of web users to a free and open Internet.

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