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Embed a Video, Go to Jail? Time to Write Senators

Today is a day off for me. I had some things I was going to do, but this article stopped me in my tracks and made me take action. I hope it does the same for you.

Bill Moving Through Congress Would Make Streaming a Felony
June 15, 2011 – by Donny Shaw OpenCongress blog
Here’s the money quote:

The bill in question is S.978, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar [D, MN], to “amend the criminal penalty provision for criminal infringement of a copyright, and for other purposes.” Specifically, it would raise illegal streaming from a misdemeanor to a felony by changing its legal status as a “public performance” to the same level as a “reproduction” or “distribution.” That would seem to mean that someone who unknowingly embeds a YouTube video on their site that contains material that is determined to be protected by a copyright could potentially face the same penalty as someone who runs a large-scale DVD bootlegging operation.

When caught, large scale DVD bootleggers go to jail. This bill makes me angry on several levels but two stand out:

1) Copyright holders already have extensive civil remedies that can ruin people. The RIAA claims that a single MP3 file can cause $22,000 worth of damages. Courts have upheld such claims against individuals for more than a $100,000.

2) This law makes extra work for our federal prosecutors, prisons and court system at a time Congress has made it crystal clear they will not raise taxes for extra services. I don’t think any part of our current mix of federal services should be cut just so the MPAA and RIAA don’t have to do their own legwork.

After reading through this story and examining parts of S. 978, I sent the following e-mail to Senators Murkowski and Begich here in Alaska:

I am writing to urge you to vote no on S.978 – “A bill to amend the criminal penalty provision for criminal infringement of a copyright, and for other purposes” if it comes to a vote on the Senate floor.

According to the Open Congress blog at http://www.opencongress.org/articles/view/2320-Bill-Moving-Through-Congress-Would-Make-Streaming-a-Felony, this bill could expose people who embed YouTube videos in their blog to felony prosecution in federal courts and could possibly lead to federal prison time. It makes streamers equal to large scale DVD bootleggers.

I oppose this bill for several reasons, but mostly because it places an additional burden on federal courts and prisons at a time when Congress has made it clear it won’t raise taxes. We  simply can’t afford this law. Particularly when copyright holders such as the MPAA already have legal remedies at their disposal in civil court.


Daniel Cornwall

If you agree that the Senate has better ways to spend its time and our money and you live in Alaska, please e-mail Senator Murkowski and Senator Begich. If you don’t live in Alaska, you can find your Senators through the OpenCongress Senate page.

And no, you can’t count on President Obama vetoing this bill. In a March 2011 white paper titled ADMINISTRATION’S WHITE PAPER ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT LEGISLATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS, his administration called for streaming to be treated as a felony.


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