Fighting SOPA & PIPA: What Law Firms Can Learn From Today’s Internet Blackout

For those who have been completely in the dark, many websites and online businesses are blacking out their content today in a global internet protest against two bills pending in Congress—SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).

SOPA in the House and its sister bill in the Senate, PIPA, target overseas “rogue websites” that host illegal copies of movies, videos, music, and photos or websites pirating counterfeit goods. If passed, the law would require Internet service providers to deny customers access to any violating website, domain name, or IP address.

Search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing, for example, in addition to social media sites, such as Tumblr, WordPress, or Blogger, will be required to adjust their search results and content to exclude foreign websites and users in suspected violation of the bill. Or, these U.S. companies’ websites will be blocked, actionable by law.

Payment providers and ad services will also be impacted, being forced to refuse business to any website in violation of the bill’s terms.

“The threat of such an audacious power grab at the behest of copyright holders has sparked furious response from technology experts, who see nothing less than a destruction of the Internet as we know it,” writes Evan Hansen for Wired Magazine’s op-ed this morning.

Wired.com joins sites like Google, Reddit, and Wikipedia in blacking out headlines on its website pages this morning. The black-tape redactions make a statement against the proposed censorship by these two bills, which some media sources—including Wired—are likening to China’s “Great Firewall.”

Patent and copyright lawyers know well how troubled and backlogged the system for protecting intellectual property has been recently, but does a quick, arguably communist censorship of the Internet align with the established freedoms, laws, and principles of the U.S. Constitution?

“Beyond damaging free speech and the internet, bills like SOPA and PIPA damage industry by reinforcing untenable faith in the status quo, ad an equally untenable fear of innovation,” continues Hansen for Wired.

“It reveals a mindset that continues to hold back media companies as they vie to compete on the new platforms that have already transformed their businesses, ready or not.”

Ultimately, the bills aim to help U.S. media companies, but fail to realize they stifle the means by which these same companies reached acclaim and success in the first place—new technology.

Limiting the Internet’s resources and free access to websites make WordPress—the platform from which you are reading this blog article—and Google—the search engine that you used to locate C4CM—defunct.

Not to mention these two bills affect your everyday use of these websites in the functioning of your law firm, including the marketing of your firm to new clients.

The practice of law today, with e-filings, e-discovery, and e-management of legal cases, is inextricably linked with technology and Internet resources. Will SOPA and PIPA force firms back into law libraries and hour-long searches for one document via the dewy decimal system?

Although the bills primarily affect Silicon Valley-based tech industry, law firms should not shirk to the shadows on this fight. The bills will also create a wide-spread ripple effect in the field of law.

From this silent, web-based protest, law firms should pay attention to at least one part.

“SOPA and PIPA represent a legal strategy that focuses the attention of business leaders on stopping losses rather than promoting innovation and building new products,” writes Hansen for Wired.

How many articles about innovation leading to increased profitability must be written before industries truly believe? Law firms should look back to lessons learned from Howrey LLP, Post-It Notes, and Apple, to name a few.

Although in many ways success in the practice of law is about the number of wins versus the number of losses, it is also about longevity—the longevity of a verdict or legal precedent, a bill in Congress, or the life of your firm.

Shortcuts and quick fixes may win a certain amount of immediate support, but innovation is the key to success in the long term. Congress and managing partners should take note.

-WB

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