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YANA(First Amendment Corporation)L
January 12, 2012 9:56 PM   Subscribe

SOPA/Corporate Advocacy Queation: Reddit is voluntarily going to go offline for half of a day to protest SOPA. Following this, there have been calls for Google, Facebook and other opponents of the proposed law to do the same. Would it be legal for these companies to do this?

I know that YANAL, but the calls for companies to black themselves out in protest has made me curious. Would doing so be the legal equivalent of spending money (or its equivalent in lost revenue) spent on lobbying or advocacy against a law?

If so, is it legal for a corporation to use its (public-facing) resources to advocate a position on proposed bills?

I am guessing that this would be similar to the First Amendment right of newspapers to publish editorials, but it also seems like it could be comparable to, say, GM adding anti-environmental messages in its manuals or commercials. Could they do that?

hopefully clear: I'm not asking about whether these companies ought to black themselves out, just if they legally could
posted by graphnerd to Law & Government (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Isn't this exactly what Citizens United established, that corporate resources may be used for political lobbying?
posted by jacalata at 10:00 PM on January 12, 2012


They're not spending money on any particular person or politician. That is, for example, they aren't taking members on dinners and cruises. They're just making their opinion on an issue known. I don't think that has ever been illegal.
posted by sbutler at 10:14 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


i think they could do whatever they want in this regard - as far as i know they would not be subject to campaign finance rules since they're not advocating for a political candidate, and since they're private actors they not constrained by the first amendment. federal employees are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity by the hatch act, but again, that's not facebook.

anyone?
posted by facetious at 10:16 PM on January 12, 2012


Google has a lot of contracts to supply ads to businesses, including me. There are serious breach issues associated with this, and a class action would really hurt them.

More importantly. Their legal donations and lobbying are gonna move the ball forward.

Frankly, in an election year? This legislation is DOA.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:20 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think it is any different than paying a lawyer to go talk to a Senator about the bill. Companies often come out for or against bills and many media companies are in favor of SOPA and have expressed it.
Are you questioning the legality of them purposely taking down a "public service"? As long as they did not violate any contracts they are a party to, I'm guessing they can do whatever they want with their own website.
GM could publish global warming denials or similar in their manuals and I don't think it would be any less legal than Harper Collins publishing a global warming denial book. That is a generic issue, especially if they are not talking about any specific pending legislation.
posted by soelo at 10:24 PM on January 12, 2012


I can't think of why it won't be illegal. Other businesses don't get in trouble for shuttering their doors in protest of laws that have already been passed (Hispanic businesses closing in protest comes to mind)
posted by astapasta24 at 10:24 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Less argue, more answer please. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:15 AM on January 13, 2012


Would doing so be the legal equivalent of spending money (or its equivalent in lost revenue) spent on lobbying or advocacy against a law?

If so, is it legal for a corporation to use its (public-facing) resources to advocate a position on proposed bills?


I'm not a lawyer but I've seen representatives for corporations directly advocate a position on proposed bills in newspaper articles and other sources. Go Daddy was directly advocating for the bill and they only stopped because so many people switched to other domain hosts, not because of any legal issues.

Google has a lot of contracts to supply ads to businesses, including me.

Also a lot of companies and organizations use Google Apps for their internal email and whatnot, taking that down for a significant amount of time would violate their guarantee of 99.9% uptime and would probably cost the companies that rely on Google Apps huge amounts of money.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:31 AM on January 13, 2012


There would be SLA contract implications, as Ironmouth mentions, between the company and their customers, but there's no "you must remain open" law per se. Telecommunication providers are another beast, though, as a public utility there are probably lots of laws surrounding downtime and emergency service.
posted by odinsdream at 7:22 AM on January 13, 2012


IANAL. The one thought I had regarding whether Google could shut down was if shareholders got up in arms over a shutdown. The Google corporate charter probably has a clause that the board, CEO, etc. are tasked with doing what is necessary to make money for the company. If a shareholder disagreed with the shutdown, they may have a case against the board, CEO, etc. This isn't to say that an argument couldn't be made that a shutdown was better for the company overall, etc.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:24 AM on January 13, 2012


If a shareholder disagreed with the shutdown, they may have a case against the board, CEO, etc. This isn't to say that an argument couldn't be made that a shutdown was better for the company overall, etc.

This is not really how being a (major) shareholder of a public company works. If shareholders could successfully sue over arbitrary policy decisions, public companies wouldn't be able to make any decisions at all. Activist shareholders do exist, but most of the sway they have is through things like proxy fights over much more important issues (such major acquisitions or buyouts).
posted by burnmp3s at 11:41 AM on January 13, 2012


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