“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”
I was somewhat relieved when I read this statement from Lamar Smith, the chief sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), an American Bill that has caused uproar amongst the technological world over the past couple of weeks along with its counterpart PIPA, the Protect IP Act.
Why was I relieved? As a worker in the humanitarian sector, I was afraid of the affect these proposed anti-piracy laws would have on social media if they were passed and, in turn, the impact they would have on charities.
Living in a digital age, social media has become increasingly important for charities in terms of fundraising, connecting with our supporters and engaging with people. These factors ultimately help charities each achieve their aims. In the case of ShelterBox, we are able to help more people.
I have seen social media campaigns drive donations by directing people to online and mobile giving portals. ShelterBox experienced this with Twitter when American author Maureen Johnson challenged her followers to raise enough money to fund one ShelterBox. Her followers ended up raising a staggering amount of almost US$30,000 in just a few days. An impressive sum in such a short amount of time would have been almost impossible to to do without the internet due to the high level of engagement social media allows for at such a low cost.
Social media is also an effective way to feed information and news to our supporters and to share knowledge with communities and other organisations. It is with this freedom of information via the Internet that allows for engaging conversations with donors, volunteers and supporters, which again allows charities to be more successful.
SOPA and PIPA take away this freedom. The proposed bills would allow the government to block sites that even link to copyrighted information, so all it would take would be for someone to post a link to download a free MP3 and Facebook would be liable. Also, with sharing pictures, one could get in trouble for re-posting an artist’s works as well. In sum, most social sites on the internet would be shutdown unless all linking, photosharing, etc. is shutdown, and all users are heavily moderated. People would also be prosecuted even if they did not know that what they were sharing was an infringement of copyright.
Here is where the problem lies. The Internet today is a fast paced environment where links can go viral in minutes. IF PIPA and SOPA were passed, people would be living in constant fear of sharing anything in case it could be found as breaking the law. This would reduce levels of engagement for charities and could lead to social media sites being blocked resulting in less donations and, very sadly, less help for those who each charity helps.