January 18, 2012 will always be remembered as the day when the internet went on strike. Never before have so many sites decided that they want to guide their visitors’ attention towards the dreaded SOPA bill.

The list of sites that have participated is impressive. Brands like: Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla, Twitpic, Wired, Fark, Minecraft, WordPress, and hundreds of others. Here’s what Google and Wikipedia looked like during the strike:

What is SOPA?

Just in case you’re not that familiar with all the craze, SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act – a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011. You’d imagine that the bill is essentially a good thing, and that it will create some more legal power to pursue pirates and eventually lock them up. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

The fact is that the SOPA bill will make no difference whatsoever to people who want to download (or share) some illegal music. Yes, they will still be able to do this, and risk five years in prison, but that’s a whole other story. For a normal internet user, SOPA can mean the end of the web as we know it.

Long story short; the problem is this. It’s all about copyrighted content. But most of the trouble making sites and services are not US based, so the US government can do absolutely nothing in terms of shutting them down. But what they can do is block their URL addresses, so they can’t be accessed by US viewers. It makes sense, okay. However, the problem is that it all goes a lot deeper. The government can actually block any site, not only the ones publishing copyrighted content, but also the ones linking to such content. Yes, a single link is enough to get your site blocked.

This is basically internet censorship. Just to survive and not be blocked, sites like Facebook, for example, will have to censor their users, so that they don’t link to any shady content. Even though life of sites like Facebook will become significantly harder, this bill will be the ultimate startup killer. If it only takes one link to get blocked, new websites will find it significantly more difficult to reach the moment when they build a critical mass of users, which would let them survive naturally. The only thing someone would have to do to block such startups would be to register an account on them, post a link to copyrighted content, and then report the given site.

Actually, if SOPA goes through no one is safe. Normal people who don’t intend to do anything bad can go to jail for five years just for posting any kind of copyrighted content. Quite simply, our freedom of speech is at risk here.

What’s next?

Will the bill go through and will we (not the pirates) have to face the consequences? Let’s hope not. But the fight is far from over.

In mid November and mid December the House Judiciary Committee held hearings regarding SOPA. The debate was supposed to continue in January, but Chairman Lamar S. Smith decided to resume it in February. Time will tell. Let’s hope that people will finally see the bigger picture and decide to abandon the bill.

What does it mean for affiliates?

If the bill goes through life of many affiliate marketers will become a lot harder. Even today, affiliate marketing isn’t the most favorite thing for various government agencies, so imagine what would happen if something like SOPA goes through.

First of all, many affiliate programs will simply cease to exist due to some imaginary SOPA infringements, so affiliates might have some problems in finding valuable programs that are still okay with the bill.

Additionally, maintaining an affiliate site will be significantly more difficult. If just one link can get you blocked then you can be sure that your competition will try to place such a link somewhere on your site. A simple link in a blog comment is enough to do the job.

If your main marketing methods are things like PPC and other on-demand activities then you can probably launch an exact copy of your blocked site on a new domain and start driving all the traffic there. However, if you’re relying on search engine traffic or any other form of free traffic then it’s game over for you.

Affiliate marketers of today have to be careful already. You can’t praise massive results and then use a “your mileage may vary” or “results not typical” disclaimer. You have to disclose all your affiliate links. And when we add SOPA to the equation you can start worrying that your website can get blocked at any time just because of a link.

You might think that it’s not such a problem because, essentially, you know what you’re linking to. But just because one site is perfectly good to link to one day doesn’t mean that it will be the same way the next day. If any of the sites you’re linking to publish any kind of copyrighted content YOU get blocked. Do you have the time and the money to monitor every site you’ve ever linked to?

We’re curious to know your opinion about SOPA. Do you have any ideas on how affiliates can protect themselves against all the problems that might come up if the bill goes through?