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Lobbyists reportedly paid 10 percent of U.S. Senators campaign costs in order to push to an anti-streaming internet copyright bill that looks to imprison U.S. citizens.  (Source: Sodahead)

The U.S. imprisons more inmates than 35 European nations combined. It imprisons more of its citzens than any other nation in the world, at a massive expense to its free taxpayers.  (Source: The Utopianist)

President Barack Obama's administration is pushing the bill to imprison Americans who illegally stream sports, movies, and TV online.  (Source: AP Photo)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is among the bill's three cosponsors.  (Source: Getty Images)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is another sponsor.  (Source: AP Photo)

The bill's final sponsor is Sen. Chris Coons (D-Dela.).  (Source: AP Photo)
Approximately 10 percent of active Senators' total campaign costs were paid by bill's supporters

Yesterday we reported on a pending measure in the United States Senate "The Commercial Felony Streaming Act" (S. 978).  Approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill now moves to the Senate floor for approval.

If approved, the bill promises up to 5 years of hard prison time for anyone who "willfully" infringes content via streaming for the purpose of "personal financial gain".  One of the sponsoring organizations, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) claims the measure will only be used to charge operators of sites that stream content illegally -- such as sports shows, movies, or TV shows.

But the bill's ambiguous language could eventually be applied to send viewers to jail, as well.  After all, the MPAA could easily argue in court that viewers were seeing "personal financial gain" by avoiding cable service fees, movie rental costs, etc.

But that's hardly the biggest story here.

I. Bought and Paid For

The U.S. currently has the world's highest incarceration rate [source; PDF].  Maintaining that dubious distinction is far from cheap -- it cost free U.S. citizens a projected $80B USD in 2010 to support the government imprisoning their peers [source].  So why would the government want to send more U.S. citizens to prison?

Well if a report by government watchdog group Maplight is to be believed, perhaps the old adage "you get what you pay for" holds true here.

Maplight claims that the groups supporting the bill have paid a total of $86M USD to active senators within the last six years.

Let's consider exactly how significant that number is.  The U.S. Senate has had 105 seats contested in the last three elections [1][2][3].  The average spent by a senate race winner was $8.5M USD in the 2008 elections [source], according to the government watchdog Center for Responsive Politics (maintainers of the site "Open Secrets").

So in total the winning Senators in the last three elections had to spend an estimated $892.5M USD to win their seats.

The $86M USD funneled by the anti-streaming lobbyists thus constitutes 9.7 percent of the total funds needed for U.S. Senators to obtain their jobs.

II. Payoffs Bear Real Weight on the Field of Tech Law

Such payoffs (or "bribes" as some people call them) don't always concern the world of technology and the internet.  But in this case, the payouts directly affect internet users across America.

Suddenly, watching 10 illegal streams within half a year could send you to prison for 5 years.  Again, the MPAA claims they won't press the point this far.  But the Bill's ambiguous language is freely available for anyone to read.

Many fans of science and technology hate hearing about politics.  They'd rather hear about new processors, search engines, hackers, and nanotubes than legislation, lawsuits, and presidential speeches.

But at the end of the day, the tech and science community of the world's largest technological superpower -- the U.S. -- is being deeply affected by the current state of American politics.

This can be seen in recent incidents such as the efforts to ban community-approved municipal internet projects, robbing citizens of their technology -- and their right to self governance.  The politicians involved?  They were reportedly paid off in campaign contributions by industry lobbyists, as well.

Likewise politicians in several states are considering making it a jail-time misdemeanor offense to share your password to Netflix, Inc.'s (NFLX) streaming video service.  Sharing your Netflix password with family members, roommates, or friends could send you to jail for one year.

III. Who is to Blame?

Dozens of Senators accepted contributions from these lobbies.  But it's important to identify the bill's biggest supporters.

Leading the way is U.S. President Barack Obama.  Obama pledged to look into copyright reform, but those promises were conveniently shelved when he stepped up to the plate pushing his campaign donors real agenda -- copyright enforcement.  Together with fellow nations like France, Britain, and Germany, the Obama administration has worked to install a secret treaty called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) whose draft contains many Orwellian provisions, including the introduction of copyright infringement "thought crime", where simply searching for infringed content (thinking of infringing) can lead to charges.

And it was the President's advisors -- the 
White House Office of U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement -- who urged Congress two months ago to pass an anti-streaming bill.  But some in the Senate were more than happy to comply; after all who would they be to deny the wishes of some of their biggest campaign donors?

The senators sponsoring the bill are Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Chris Coons (D-Dela.).  

The support illustrates another aspect of the nature of the problem.  On many of these issues affecting the tech community the issue is no longer partisan politics.  Both Democrats and Republicans are gleefully accepting campaign donations from industry lobbies and pushing their sponsors' agendas in Washington D.C.

At the end of the day the question here is clear -- who does the President and these Senators answer to and pledge to protect -- the citizens of the nation?  Or the entities that paid for them to get their prestigious positions of power?

As the nation that imprisons more of it citizens than any other country -- industrialized or not -- prepares to send yet more of its taxpayers to jail, consider the above.

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Prison terms
By MegaHustler on 6/18/2011 4:32:46 PM , Rating: 5
It never ceases to amaze me how long prison times are in the US, compared to most countries in Europe.

Five years? You'd need to do some pretty serious white-collar crime here in Denmark to get that kind of prison term. A guy who defrauded banks of about 60 million USD, recently got seven years.

RE: Prison terms
By Motoman on 6/18/2011 6:44:12 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah, 5 years for "stealing" a TV show...but if you molested a 8-year old, you'd probably get 6 months in jail and a year of probation.

RE: Prison terms
By shabby on 6/18/2011 7:43:39 PM , Rating: 5
Those molested victims better get some good lobbyists then...

RE: Prison terms
By Einy0 on 6/19/2011 7:50:24 PM , Rating: 1
I know this is meant to be a joke but the sad truth is, it isn't. People in this government(US) would rather stuff their pockets and make sure they have the dough to get re-elected than take care of real problems. The scariest part of that is a large portion of those molested become molesters themselves. The only way you can help a molester is by treating them while they are still young and no one want's to pay for the proper treatment of that either.

RE: Prison terms
By FaaR on 6/18/2011 7:45:53 PM , Rating: 5
Actually, sex offenders are punished for life in a number of states in the US. The punishment literally does not expire...ever. Until you die that is.

So your example isn't all that great, mebbe you oughta go with robbing an old woman instead of molesting a kid, I dunno. :P

RE: Prison terms
By Mitch101 on 6/18/2011 8:46:27 PM , Rating: 4
I watched dateline the same guy with intent to meet an underage child on to catch a predator was caught again in a later episode. Apparently fined and sent on his way.

Scarry to think the Child molester would be free to continue stalking while the person who copied a movie is in jail. What a Level 0 species we are.

RE: Prison terms
By putergeek00 on 6/20/2011 10:21:46 AM , Rating: 2
Ooops! Sorry.

I think he was dropped on his head a few times. lol

RE: Prison terms
By michael67 on 6/18/2011 9:13:25 PM , Rating: 3
In Holland we have something called TBS translated it means "transfer to the state" for serious mostly sex or violent crimes.

If you get that extra if the judge think there is a good chance you will repeat what you done, it means that after your punishment you transferd to a psychiatric institute till they find that its save to let you back in society. that can mean 1 year or the rest of your life.

Some people are deemed a danger for society and incurable, those people they get confined in a camp ware they spend the rest of there life's with lots of internal freedom but no change to ever get out.

RE: Prison terms
By wrekd on 6/20/2011 10:38:19 AM , Rating: 2
Smoke and a pancake?

RE: Prison terms
By JediJeb on 6/20/2011 3:49:24 PM , Rating: 2
Seems I remember in Sweden castration is the punishment for first offense sex offenders. They also boast of having only a 5% repeat offender rate for sex crimes also. I think maybe they have the right idea.

RE: Prison terms
By MatthiasF on 6/20/2011 7:11:43 PM , Rating: 2
Wait, does this mean Assange could get castrated?

That's fantastic!

RE: Prison terms
By superstition on 6/21/2011 12:29:12 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, because who cares about innocent until proven guilty?

I say, we bring back the Witch Trials.

RE: Prison terms
By Jalek on 6/19/2011 5:03:53 PM , Rating: 2
Being on a list isn't punishment.
We still hear about level 3 offenders being released and killing kids.

RE: Prison terms
By xeridea on 6/20/2011 5:20:22 PM , Rating: 2
Funny thing... If you steal a movie from a retail store, its just shoptlifting, and a fine, why do you need to go to jail if you "steal" a movie online?

The answer? The MPAA and the music associations are greedy bastards who don't actually care about people making movies/music, but themselves, they are as corrupt as all the polititions. None of the money obtained from suing is ever given to the rightful owners, but used to find more creative ways to sue people.

RE: Prison terms
By PrinceGaz on 6/18/2011 10:17:29 PM , Rating: 2
Which is why the US has a much higher percentage of its population in prison than most western European countries (because they stick them in, and for much longer, for what here would be considered a minor crime). Real crime is physically or psychologically harming people, not hacking into computers or downloading a few music or movie files. Speaking of which... nah, it'll take forever for that to finish, at least there are several full sources even if I'm way down their queue.

It wasn't so long ago that some US states still had prisoners forced to work in chain-gangs, I believe. That was unbelievable in the later part of the 20th century.

RE: Prison terms
By tng on 6/20/2011 8:31:00 AM , Rating: 2
It wasn't so long ago that some US states still had prisoners forced to work in chain-gangs, I believe. That was unbelievable in the later part of the 20th century.
There are still places that have chain gangs, believe it or not they are very effective.

Also computer hacking in not a victim less crime in all cases. Download a movie, who cares. Grab someones banking info and drain their accounts, whole different story when the rent check bounces and you get an eviction notice.... Problem is that in allot cases it can be the same person who does both, and the punishment needs to fit the crime. This bill wont help anybody.

RE: Prison terms
By Argon18 on 6/23/2011 1:11:35 AM , Rating: 2
On your point that "computer hacking" is not a "real crime", that needs to be further clarified. Computer hacking in the sense of illegal movie or music sharing, yes I agree that should not be a jail-able offense. It's a sad corrupt joke that these senators take money from the MPAA and RIAA to do their bidding. Those senators belong in jail.

On the other hand, computer hacking to steal sensitive government information, with the intent to change the course of politics, that is indeed a serious crime and should carry a very hefty jail sentence. Ever heard the phrase "loose lips sink ships"? It's true in the literal sense - people can and do die when classified government information gets leaked to the public, particularly when that information is about an in-progress military operation. Assange and his cohorts have blood on their hands.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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