Opinion

Rogue sites a threat to small business and innovation

Karen Kerrigan Contributor

In today’s wired world, entrepreneurs are finding their stride in utilizing the Internet to grow and build their businesses. Nearly every industry of every size is represented in the online marketplace. While the vast majority of businesses are, indeed, authentic and law-abiding, there are a number of web-based “entrepreneurs” out there who seek to undercut the innovation, brands, and jobs of legitimate American businesses. The favorite tool of these profiteers is rogue sites — websites dedicated to intellectual property (IP) theft, which includes trademark infringement and copyright piracy.

Rogue sites are incredibly sophisticated and deceptive, oftentimes duping consumers into purchasing or downloading illegal — and sometimes unsafe — products. Not only are the consumers put at risk, but the reputations of the trademarks and copyrights associated with legitimate enterprises are wholly undermined as well.

The vitality of small businesses is absolutely essential to fostering and maintaining a healthy U.S. economy. Small enterprises accounted for nearly half of private nonfarm GDP between 1998 and 2004. However, rogue sites are subverting the very innovative spirit that has made the U.S. the premier global economy. According to a study by brand-protection firm Mark Monitor, legitimate businesses of all sizes have lost $135 billion in revenue annually due to the eruption of online purveyors of counterfeit goods and pirated content.

As an advocate for entrepreneurship and small business owners, it is impossible to sit idle as rogue sites pose a direct threat to the companies that fuel economic growth and generate 65 percent of net new jobs. The challenges that rogue sites pose to our businesses is, in fact, no “small” matter.

While businesses have learned to adapt to the online world, so must our laws that protect American companies and consumers. This is precisely why rogue sites legislation is needed, and urgently. Last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and ten other cosponsors from both sides of the aisle introduced the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act, aimed at shutting down the worst of the worst online counterfeiters and pirates. The PROTECT IP Act gives the government, enforcement agencies, and rights owners the necessary tools to disrupt the online black market, which has demonstrated its total disregard for U.S. laws, businesses, and consumers.

The Internet should not be an antagonist of the legitimate global marketplace. For the most part, it is not. However, rogue sites are a blight which should — and can — be cleaned up with proper legislative safeguards. In this time of economic recovery, I can’t see why Congress wouldn’t take this opportunity to support innovation, support jobs, and support a safe and prosperous web-based economy.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a nonpartisan advocacy and research organization dedicated to protecting small business and promoting entrepreneurship.