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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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RE: Only broadcasters
By JasonMick on 6/18/2011 4:51:56 PM , Rating: 2
If the MPAA tries that, then viewers can start using offshore VPN servers to hide their activities.

True, but the scenario you outline is one in which the citizens of the U.S. are forced to hide their activities and live like fearful wild animals, ever on the run and afraid that Big federal government and its masters (lobbyists) may find them out and imprison them.

The underlying conflict between public interests and corporate/big money ones is a very general and pressing problem affecting American politics and tech law today. At the end of the day the majority of the American people aren't directly paying for politicians to be placed in positions of federal power. But lobbyists are.

Note, not all corporations/big money parties are looking to abuse the system, the problem is that some are and they give legitimate firms and respectable wealthy a bad name.

RE: Only broadcasters
By Chilly8 on 6/18/2011 5:04:37 PM , Rating: 2
There are so many people who view content, that if they put them all in jail, there would be no room for anyone else.

And with the provision of having had to stream 10 times in 180 days, they are not going to find out everything you do accross all kinds of streaming services.

And services, such as Sopcast or CCAnts, in China, are beyong the authority of US courts. US courts cannot subpoena a video service in China.

And then there is the issue of programs, like Evidence Elimiantor. If they seize your machine, and EE has been used, and they cannot recover evidence, that pretty much does in their case.

RE: Only broadcasters
By GulWestfale on 6/18/2011 5:51:33 PM , Rating: 5
the sort of bribery that is mentioned in the article is unfortunately perfectly legal in the US. i think it demeans your political system when the rich can simply buy laws for themselves, regardless of the issue at stake. democKracy, it should be called. shame on these politicians... but tomorrow, everyone will have forgotten about them and those who bought their way in, and they'll all be re-elected next time.
it makes me sad.

RE: Only broadcasters
By BugblatterIII on 6/18/2011 8:29:03 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, because they never went after people downloading mp3s and movies...oh wait...

RE: Only broadcasters
By MikeMurphy on 6/18/2011 10:33:59 PM , Rating: 2
This bill is insane.

Just because you don't want someone to do something doesn't mean you attach a jail sentence to it.

Its really a maneuver to shift the copyright enforcement onto the public dime.

RE: Only broadcasters
By gorehound on 6/19/2011 8:52:03 AM , Rating: 2
time for people to be serious about boycotting the MAFIAA INdustry.These assholes know only one thing and that is what i do and never give these arses a dime.
stop it already and put your mouth where your action is.if you need a film or cd bad enough go to the local used store and pick one up so MAFIAA will not get any money from you buying used.
you hate these posts of us being taken advantage of by MAFIAA then do something about it not only writing a little reply.

RE: Only broadcasters
By Jalek on 6/19/2011 7:30:16 PM , Rating: 2
Making it a federal crime to not verify and demand evidence of licensing agreements and terms before viewing Family Guy streaming from TBS seems a bit much, but if it's that or risk years in prison...

RE: Only broadcasters
By Chilly8 on 6/20/2011 12:32:23 PM , Rating: 2
If they decide later on to extend this to people who view content, I have that taken care of with a VPN/Proxy service that I pay $200 a year for. This service keeps no logs and hides my IP address so that it looks like I am coming in from the other side of the world.

I alredy use it to bypass geo restrictions to watch conent on Bet365, which does have sports streams, but restricts vieweing to IP addresses in Britan, or to watch the Olympics on Eurovision instead of waiting for NBC's crappy tape delayed coverage.

In short, no matter what they do, I am protected by using the VPN service that I subscribe to. First they keep no logs, and second, the servers are in countries where the US has no power to subpoena information.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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