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US SOPA Bill: What will it mean to Nigerians

SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act, it is a piece of legislation in the United States House of Representatives and as the name implies and according to proponents will make life difficult for businesses that thrive on online distribution of copyrighted intellectual property and promote innovation and creativity on the internet. Opponents of the bill, claim the name is misleading, in fact some have called it the Internet Censorship bill, while some others have referred to it as United States’ version of the Chinese firewall.
SOPA gives sweeping powers to the United States Department of Justice to take action against websites accused of distributing or enabling the distribution of copyright materials on the internet. Ordinarily, a bill that fights piracy should be welcomed, but most opponents are concerned about the implication of the bill on the future of the internet and its practicality.

Concerns of SOPA Opponents

One major concern is the very vague definition of what constitute a copyright infringement. This according to opponents creates lots of latitude for abuse by the US government and copyright holders.

This could make investors to shy away from new ventures as they could be concerned about law suits. SOPA is also said to be copyright holder-biased. For example, a website can easily be blacklisted based on an accusation by a copyright holder. If SOPA stands websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter can easily be accused of copyright infringement.

Another concern of SOPA is that it could require Internet Service Providers to monitor web traffic and block websites suspected of distributing copyright materials.

The first part is invasion of privacy, while the second constitute censorship. Others are also concerned that SOPA bill will operate in the background making it hard for the public to access its implementation, which could lead to abuses by government.

Another major concern is that SOPA could tamper with some aspect of the Internet Protocol, which could potentially create new security threats for companies and all web users.

Major opponents of the SOPA bill include Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, Mozilla.

If you want to know more about the SOPA bill, you can read more at Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia.

SOPA is a US bill, so how would it affect Nigerians?

SOPA may be a US bill, but if passed will have ramifications all over the world including Nigeria.

No more or very little free stuff online

If you currently enjoy free stuff on your phone or laptop, SOPA will likely affect you. It could be music, video, movies, apps, games, ringtones, wallpapers, software, text, just name it. A number of the free stuff we download/stream online in Nigeria are actually infringing people’s copyright.

Websites that offer content online by infringing on copyrights could be crippled by the SOPA bill making their services unavailable to Nigerians. So, we will not find sites to download free stuff if this bill goes through. We will have to get used to paying for content or download only the few content that are provided free by copyright-holders.

This is not bad, if you ask me and even most opponents of the SOPA bill would agree. No one should make money selling, or offering at a cheaper rate, or even offering for free content that he has no right to. Most opponents of the bill are concerned about its implementation and practicality and not the idea.

Nigerian online businesses could be affected

You may think the SOPA bill is American, its major target are businesses located outside the United States. In fact, here is a reference from CNET:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to the editor of The New York Times, put it this way: “Rogue Web sites that steal America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.”

Your website might actually be one of the so called rogue websites. If you do any business that shares and distributes content online, you should be concerned about SOPA and determine what it could mean for your business if passed. Well you may be asking how a bill passed in the US can affect your business in Nigeria. Here is how.

SOPA gives the US government powers to take very strong actions against businesses accused of infringing copyright. If you rely on US based companies for stuff like social networking, payment processing, advertising revenue, and web traffic, then you are a small fry. For example under SOPA, the US government can force Google to remove your website from their search index. The US government can also force any US based company to stop paying you advertising revenue or to stop processing your payment.

So, with no traffic from search engines, your social network fan page disabled with your thousands of fans gone, no way of processing payment, and no advertising revenue coming in, do you still have a business? It even gets worse; your domain name could even be seized by the US government.

Note that you do not need to be acually doing a business that infringes copyright to face all these, an accusation is enough.

Find out more about the SOPA bill. You can read more about the SOPA bill at Wikipedia by following the link we provided somewhere in the middle of this post.

Such a bill could be passed in Nigeria in future

The real danger with SOPA is that other governments could emulate the United States and pass similar bills in their countries. For example, Nigeria could pass such a bill that censors people online in the guise of fighting piracy. Internet offers us privacy and freedom, SOPA will take it from us.

What is the status of SOPA?

The SOPA bill has been put-off by congress till later this 2012, so the battle continues.

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