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Could Online Piracy Act Shutter Small Businesses?

Patricia Orsini|Small Business Editor
Wednesday, 18 Jan 2012 | 1:24 PM ET
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While we still have the ability to search the Internet, we went online today to learn how SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, would affect small businesses and start-ups.

If you don’t know what SOPA is, don’t look it up on Wikipedia, at least not today.

The site has staged a protest by going dark. Google, Reddit, Craigslist and others have joined the protest to shed light on the potential problems businesses could be up against if it, or its sister bill in the Senate, Protect IP Act, should be approved by Congress.

Quick Recap:While the original intent of the bills was to crack down on foreign websites that publish or stream copyrighted materials from the U.S.—think movies, music and written content —the wording of the bills is so broad, say critics, that all types of websites, both foreign and domestic, would be fair game. Hollywood might get its way, but commerce, especially the start-up kind, could come to a screeching halt.

Why? Here’s the simple explanation: The bills give the government broad powers to block access to websites it believes have violated copyright laws. And, as any small business owner who depends upon Google searches for potential customers knows, if no one can find you on the Internet, you may as well not exist. For instance, linking to a site that you did not know violated a copyright could get you into trouble. It's something we in the news business do all the time. For instance, here's a great cartoon, courtesy of The Guardian, that explains both sides of the SOPA debate.

Acknowledging the “extremely technical issues” involved in the debate, Representative Sam Graves, chairman of the House Small Business Committee, was non-committal. “Online piracy has become a significant issue in our new digital age,” he told CNBC.com. “However, it’s important that Washington doesn’t enact regulations that stifle entrepreneurism and create yet another hurdle for start-ups. I’m confident that both sides of this debate can find an appropriate solution to address online piracy.”

Stifling entrepreneurism is not a successful path to re-election for any politician. So, it’s safe to say that the debate will continue in the lead-up to a house vote on SOPA set for Jan. 24.

What do you think? If SOPA passes, will it change the way you do business? Are you concerned with the limits it might impose? Did the online protest affect your business? Is this a non-issue for you?

Post your comments, and we’ll continue the discussion as this debate moves forward.



email: patricia.orsini@nbcuni.com

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