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Stop Online Piracy Act: Could It Censor Small Tech Companies?

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(By Stephanie Rabiner) - You've likely heard a lot about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the last few days, and chances are the chatter isn't going to stop. The bill has the potential to change the way you use the Internet.

It's designed to give rights-holders more power to stop online piracy, but it arguably shifts the burden of enforcement to technology companies. As a result, SOPA may affect small business.

Under SOPA, rights-holders can demand that payment vendors and ad networks end relationships with infringing websites. The U.S. Government may also seek a court order requiring ISPs and search engines to block consumer access.

Google's policy counsel testified at the House hearing on Wednesday and specifically addressed how SOPA may affect small business. She posed a scenario involving a small business operating an online storefront that allows other small businesses to sell products.

Imagine that a single supplier begins selling counterfeit handbags. Even if the site removed the merchandise, it could arguably be labeled as "dedicated to theft." The trademark owner could then force ad networks and payment processers to stop servicing the site.

No notification of the online storefront owner is required.

One small business owner blogging for Forbes sees more real world implications. If SOPA passed, he will need to evaluate each and every product for possible piracy, costing him time and money.

Still, SOPA may be good for some small businesses. Its main supporters are Hollywood and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They argue that piracy impacts small businesses associated with the music, television and cinema industries. Better enforcement means more money for all.

It's imperative that you learn about the ways SOPA will affect small business. Depending on your industry, supporting the bill may be the right move. But you'll need more information before making that decision.

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