Unless you have banned yourself from technology and the media all together recently, you’ve probably heard of the two bills Congress has been trying to pass: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Designed to address online piracy issues, the bills’ critics agree something should be done about online piracy, but argue that SOPA and PIPA would censor the Web and infringe on the American right to free speech. Supporters of the bills (i.e., Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the US Chamber of Commerce, and News Corp.) believe the critics misunderstand the bill and are concerned that the American people will be swayed by detractors’ opinions.
If SOPA and PIPA pass in their current form, the Senate and House of Representatives would require internet service providers ( ISPs) to block access to foreign sites that violate copyrights. Online piracy is undoubtedly a huge problem, which reportedly costs up to $250 billion and 750,000 industry jobs per year. Critics and supporters alike agree that this is an issue that needs to be handled, but critics believe SOPA and PIPA are not the answer. Last week before the bills were shelved, Google spokeswoman Samantha Smith stated, “There are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Web.” In addition to Web censorship, many of the critics believe that these bills would place an “unreasonable burden” on sites like Google or Wikipedia that have millions of inbound and outbound links.
For that reason, you might have noticed certain websites protesting the bills last week. For instance, Wikipedia went black for the entire day on January 18th with a message that displayed, “Imagine a world without free knowledge.” The only pages viewable on the U.S. Wikipedia explained the bills and offered information for protesting to Congress. Other sites followed suit. Google chose not to go completely black, but they did blackout the “Google Doodle” and posted a link to a protest page explaining the bills and need for protest. They even had petition for users who did not support the bills to sign. By the following day, they had over 7 million signatures and lawmakers began withdrawing support.
The protesters voices were heard, and on Friday, January 20th the congressman who proposed SOPA withdrew it and postponed further consideration due to critics’ concerns. Congress plans to revisit SOPA’s approach and work to determine the best way to address the existing piracy problem.
There is much to learn from the actions taken by the bills’ protestors. Before last Wednesday, when companies were planning their protests, they really had no way of knowing what kind of outcome to expect. They could have easily lost a day of business and the bill could have been pushed forward. Even some Wikipedia employees were uncomfortable with the protest strategy—claiming they were “fighting censorship with censorship.” Wikipedia’s founder, however, had a different opinion. He tweeted, “The encyclopedia will always be neutral. The community need not be, not when the encyclopedia is threatened.”
There will be times that you have to make difficult decisions for your company and in your business. While it’s important to pick your battles and maintain perspective with your personal beliefs while conducting business, there are times when it is important to fight for what you believe. When it comes time to battle in business, it’s important to have a good public relations team at your side. Visit our website to learn more about what we do at McCauley Marketing Services, and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for marketing tips and updates.