Today has seen the biggest public protest in the history of the Internet. For 24 hours on January 18th, prominent sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit have “blacked out” in protest to proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation in the United States.
Countless others, including Google, have also used today to come out and publicly oppose the legislation. Thousands of Twitter users have also joined the movement, voluntarily “blacking out” their own profiles for the day.
But whilst most of the hype surrounding SOPA and PIPA has been confined to the US, the ramifications of the bills extend much further. For those who don’t know, the SOPA and PIPA legislation is designed to protect Intellectual Property rights on the web (a good thing), however the legislation extends so far that many are labelling it an infringement of freedom of speech and give a select few the power to control what is and isn’t allowed on the net. Gizmodo gives a good (and slightly scary) synopsis here for those interested.
The question for Australia, and most other countries outside the US, is what does this mean for us?
If you think we’ll be unaffected, think again. For a start, any Australian business with a website that has US visitors, US customers, US hosting, relies on US-based adserving platforms (such as AdWords) or has a connection with any other US-based website (like search engines) will fall under the Act’s powers.
One of the major problems with the legislation, as Gizmodo pointed out, is that the potential for abuse is rife. One complaint (made by the right people) about your site to the appropriate authorities has the potential for your site to be instantly blocked by US internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, social networks and more. Basically, you would disappear from the web (or the US version) overnight.
Now you might be thinking “I’m not hosting pirated movies on my website, so i’ll be fine…” which in theory should be the case. Much opposition to the bill however, has focused on the fact that the interpretation of it is so broad that the smallest indiscretion can cause major backlash. For instance, if you have a forum or blog and a user posts a link to a site considered by the US to be promoting IP theft, your site could disappear. Linking to a Youtube video with copyrighted content could incur the same fate.
If you’re hosting in the US, this may not just be blocking the site of US traffic, but deleting it all together.
And then of course there’s the fact that if the US enact SOPA to protect its copyright holders, other countries around the world will follow suit, blocking content that it deems inappropriate too. What different countries deem “inappropriate” will vary greatly, making doing International business a nightmare.
At this stage there’s a long way to go, but if you’re an Australian business who relies on International (in particular US) traffic for sales, you need to watch the developments very closely.
As a starting point, every business should be reviewing how much of their sales is tied to US customers, and how much they rely on US sites to direct traffic their way (think Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc)…