Friday, November 25, 2011

How Congress could change internet marketing.

As a graduate student studying Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, I know that, when it comes to the internet, content is king. To use content online, a key issue that all marketers must understand is the law surrounding copyrights. It seemed that after Viacom sued YouTube for copyright infringement, and lost, that the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which give a web site immunity so long as it removes infringing content upon notification) provided an adequate framework to protect websites accused of distributing infringing content. However, the DMCA is apparently not enough for Congress, who is now considering the MPAA backed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). If passed, this bill could have huge implications not only for marketers, but just about anyone who uses the internet.

With the goal of blocking sites which traffic in copyrighted material, SOPA would give the attorney general the power to create a blacklist of sites which would be blocked by ISPs and search engines. However, the bill is very broadly written, and the legislation would essentially end the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA.   All it would potentially take is one infringing file to take down an entire website – creating, as TechCrunch calls it, a “perfectly legal kill switch for any site on the internet.” Or, as Eric Schmidt put it, “[the bill] would require (Internet service providers) to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked (emphasis mine)." It should be noted that, from a technical standpoint, the legislation wouldn’t stop piracy.  As Nancy Scola pointed out in Salon “Hard-core pirates are simply going to traffic in IP addresses. For example, copy and paste “″ in your browser. The Pirate Bay should still pop up, and there’s nothing Google can do about it.”

This legislation could potentially have serious effects on internet marketing. The law not only creates a blacklist, but it gives it gives intellectual property rights holders the ability to ask payment providers and ad networks to stop working with infringing sites, which could cripple a site financially. Eliminating the safe harbor provisions would most likely end marketing campaigns which include user generated content (i.e. contests with videos), as the liability for the sites would be significantly higher. Additionally, in a recent study by Booz & Company, holding websites responsible for the content uploaded by users would reduce the pool of interested angel investors by 81%.
The legislation not only impacts companies, but it could impact consumers as well. The bill includes provisions which could consider posting any copyrighted material a felony. believes that, under the new laws, Justin Bieber could potentially face 5 years in prison for posting covers of other peoples’ music (which, though it happens, is not a fair use of copyrighted material). However, this would also affect people like Stephanie Lenz, whose use of Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy” in a 29 second video of her kids dancing was determined to be fair use. As SOPA makes no provision for fair use, people like Lenz could find themselves in serious trouble.  

Marketers should all be watching this legislation very, very closely as it could strongly affect our business and make our jobs much more difficult. Yahoo! has already canceled its membership in the US Chamber of Commerce (a supporter of SOPA) over this, Google is threatening to follow suit, and there are a number of petitions on  attempting to stop SOPA. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.

Marketing industry veteran Ed Jaffe is three weeks away from completing his master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. You can find him on LinkedIn or Twitter.   


  1. Way to go. Great article and good structure. It reads well and has a lot of links to keep it interesting. The only thing i don't see is your links. Dod you put them in? They are vital to get alumni and marketers to read your blog. Use terms specific to the blog, terms specific to IMC, and terms specific for marketers.

    You did the work. You deserve the readers.

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