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SparkFun has now decided to take an official position on the matter and stands with our fellow citizens of the internet by opposing SOPA and PIPA!
Today a lot of sites are blacked out in some form or another. Here's a quick list of the big ones (of which I'm aware):
and even our pals at Adafruit have a banner.
They're doing so in protest of SOPA and PIPA - two bills in congress that would have a dramatic influence over the openness and freedom of the internet.
To understand how these bills work to learn for yourself why they're harmful, check out this Reddit blog post and educate yourself.
It's been hotly debated over the past few months (this week especially) whether SparkFun should get involved - in any way - at a company level. Without a track record of being politically outspoken as an organization, we didn't want to set precedents that would put us on the slippery slope to endorsing candidates or championing issues well outside of our sphere. We're a business, not a super PAC.
But SOPA and PIPA are different. These bills are about censorship, plain and simple. Using our imaginations, perhaps if SparkFun comes out against them there will be those who think we shouldn't have or those who think we're doing it too late or those who think we aren't doing enough or those who vehemently support this legislation. Regardless of the discussion on our blog, tutorials, product pages, or forum, we've always opposed censoring dissent. I mean, just look at all the vitriol heaped on us for how we did Free Day this year! Every negative comment preserved for the world to see, with pride.
We don't want to censor them because we believe in free expression on our homepage as well as the entire internet ecosystem wherein we conduct our business and earn our livelihood. That's exactly why SparkFun opposes this legislation - it risks widespread censoring of the entire internet including the SparkFun home page. The internet has been kind to us and now she's under attack by legislators and special interests who don't understand how it works. SparkFun has decided to take an official position on the matter and stands with our fellow citizens of the internet by opposing SOPA and PIPA!
Now, it wasn't easy to arrive at this decision at the organizational level. Taking a stance as an organization can get you into trouble, after all, and it took some internal debate to get us here.
I would like to tell a story about one example that helped. I've been struggling to put into words just how these bills would affect us directly. We have a lot of user generated content in the form of comments on blog posts, tutorials, products, and the forum but I have yet to see anything that is a clear example of potential copyright infringement.
Back in '09 SPARC International, makers of a specific line of high-powered servers, sent us a cease and desist for infringing on their trademark, as we are SparkFun and make small embedded circuits (that's kinda like servers, I guess). We posted the C&D letter. The internet, having always had our back, came rallying to our aid. They even got a bit zealous in our favor and we had to politely request they discontinue threatening violence against the law firm.
The request from SPARC International (SI) was quite straightforward: "immediately cease and desist from using the term SPARKFUN ... immediately take steps to transfer the sparkfun.com domain name to SI." Obviously this would spell the immediate end to our entire business.
Now, SPARC had to operate solely on the threat of a law suit. Should that have come to pass (it didn't), SparkFun would have had the right to due process and nothing would change until a court of law, wherein we had the chance to defend ourselves, found us liable.
Now, trademarks and copyrights are different things. However, let's play out a similar scenario in a world where SOPA and/or PIPA are a reality. A plaintiff (like SI) could make a claim that SparkFun.com is infringing on their copyright in some form (anything from a product we designed that supposedly rips off their copyrighted design to a link in a comment that points to supposedly copyrighted material). Said plaintiff could take their claim to the attorney general for our judicial district, and solely at the discretion of that government official an injunction could be filed against us.
Without due process we could find ourselves looking at an order from the attorney general to cease operations. Failure to compliance allows for the plaintiff and attorney general to go after our financial transaction providers - Authorize.net and PayPal - to shut down the flow of cash into our business. As an extreme example, sparkfun.com would yield a message from the attorney general describing how we have been shut down. The legislation strikes at the openness and freedom of the internet, but moreover, it strikes at businesses, like us, that live and die by the uncensored web we call home.
Get involved. Oppose SOPA and PIPA.