If you haven’t been following the debate about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Google it and you’ll find plenty of articles that describe the proposed legislation better than I can. Facebook, Twitter and all of the heavyweights of user generated content have come out against SOPA. But strangely, there has been no concerted outcry from community managers. That’s unfortunate, because SOPA poses a grave danger to online communities.
If you manage a private or internal company community, you’re probably not at risk. But if you’re like me and manage open, public communities, you should be worried about SOPA. My company, Delphi Forums, has taken a public stand against SOPA and has resigned from the Better Business Bureau because of that organization’s support of the bill.
Right now, Web sites that host user generated content are required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to make a good faith effort to remove copyrighted material from their sites. These sites are protected if they respond to complaints about stolen content in a reasonable and timely manner.
SOPA would remove that protection. Web site operators would be at risk if just one page of their site contains copyrighted material or is “dedicated to theft of U.S. property.” No excuses. So even if people are on your site just talking about intellectual property theft, you could find yourself afoul of the law. It doesn’t matter if you take down this material after you find out about it.
If you don’t have the resources to put together a legal challenge within five days, your domain name can be disabled.
This kind of thing would be devastating for operators of small, hobbyist online communities. These people simply don’t have the resources to defend themselves against the big entertainment companies and their lawyers. If SOPA becomes law, we may see the end of online communities started by people who just want a place to gather online with those that share their interests.
Everybody involved with online communities ought to be worried.