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The bill could send you to prison for five years for streaming video 10 times in half a year.  (Source:
Sharing sports games with your friends? You're going to prison for 5 years!

Some accuse the United States federal government of being bought and paid for by the entertainment industry when it comes to copyright law.  Indeed, when Barack Obama was elected president he initially promised to look into copyright reform, but since has focused his efforts almost exclusively on copyright enforcement.  Copyright enforcement is a rare bipartisan-supported issue in Washington D.C. -- arguably because parties such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and their respective member corporations make a point of donating millions to members of both parties.

Given that, the U.S. Senate’s plans to criminalize online streaming of television programming or movies does not particularly surprise.  Dubbed "The Commercial Felony Streaming Act" (S. 978), the bipartisan bill was introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

The bill would aims to "reconcile a disparity" between the current law regarding stream of content with that regarding peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing.  The bill's proposed way to "reconcile" that disparity is to send Americans to prison -- if you're caught streaming 10 times within 180 days, you can be convicted of a felony and sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.

In order for videos to qualify as strikes against an individual, the infringed work must have a retail value of the streamed video that exceeds $2,500, or a license worth more than $5,000.  To qualify the streaming must also be done for "personal financial gain" -- an ambiguous phrasing.

The MPAA claims that it will only target website owners who "willfully and knowingly violated a copyright and profited from it." The organization says it will not look to prosecute those who "stream videos without intending to profit".

However, the organization or other copyright enforcement groups could eventually use the measure to try to prosecute viewers and owners of non-profitable sites as well, as they could argue that individuals see a "personal financial gain" from not purchasing work legally.  

The bill is firmly supported by the Obama administration.  The White House Office of U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement urged Congress two months ago to send Americans who stream to prison.  

The effort is also being pushed by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), AFTRA, Directors Guild of America, IATSE, SAG, the MPAA, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, and the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Michael O’Leary, Executive Vice President, Government Affairs for the MPAA lauds, "This bill will help ensure that the punishment for these site operators fits the crime."

And IFTA President Jean Prewitt adds, "The illegal streaming of motion pictures and television programming is as financially devastating for our industry as is illegal downloading. Stealing is stealing, regardless of the means in which the product is being received."

The bill was approved on Thursday by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Some states have recently been pushing to make sharing your Netflix password a misdemeanor offense that carries jail time.  Netflix, Inc. (NFLX) is the world's largest legal vendor of streaming movies.  The bills contain no exemptions for sharing passwords with your family members or roommates.

The U.S. has the world's highest incarceration rate of any country in the world [source; PDF].  It is project that the U.S. spent over $80B USD in tax payer money on imprisoning its citizens in 2010 [source].

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Punishment fits the crime?
By Silverel on 6/17/2011 10:08:40 AM , Rating: 2
Instead, why not revoke their access to the internet by creating a blacklist for cable providers, telcos, and seizing whatever verified internet accounts can be found during the infringement and persecution. Seems to me 5 years of internet probation would be more appropriate than 5 years of time in prison with much more hardened criminals.

Although... you probably still get internet in prison too...

RE: Punishment fits the crime?
By mcnabney on 6/17/2011 11:01:52 AM , Rating: 2
UN is ruling that Internet access is a Right. As in, you can't take it away. That isn't to say it is free, but the State cannot deprive you of that right. Have you ever heard of someone being barred from TV, telephone, or mail. Same thing.

RE: Punishment fits the crime?
By fic2 on 6/17/2011 11:15:05 AM , Rating: 2
Yep. Go to SuperMax and you will loose most of that. Maybe not mail - not sure about that - but certainly someone is going to be reading your incoming/outgoing mail.

And, as yet, the U.N. doesn't rule the U.S.

RE: Punishment fits the crime?
By erple2 on 6/17/2011 11:53:15 AM , Rating: 2
I remember being barred from TV and telephone. But that was after I painted the entire side of the house with some leftover epoxy seal paint in the garage. The best/worst part was that I signed it in my cousin's name to remove doubt that it was me. He was 2 at the time.

RE: Punishment fits the crime?
By rlandess on 6/17/2011 11:17:46 AM , Rating: 2
I agree... Lets hope politicians don't read DT.

Blacklists are cheap, prison costs more per year than most universities.

The last thing we need is to give more tools to the organizations that seek out filesharers and manipulate the system to extract ridiculous judgements and settlements that really only go to pay the lawyers so that they can continue to sue people who have done very little to the industries the lawyers represent.

off topic sort of...

But as for television specifically, the industry needs to stop living in denial of the changing world we live in. Some day broadcast TV will probably die. If you don't ride the wave you'll be crushed by it.


Cable companies in particular just need to roll over and die. Comcast, Time Warner, etc. would all like to see the internet crippled to the point of uselessness. In their world we'd all subscribe to their services to get premium content, otherwise we'd be back in internet of 1992, having very little to see or do.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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