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
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].