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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: Time to get real
By FaaR on 6/18/2011 7:55:37 PM , Rating: 3
Assuming you're not just trolling for flames, don't you think 5 years in jail and a $10k fine for pirating a copyrighted work is just a little disproportional?

I can't even think of something else that currently warrants a $10k fine, other than various fraud/white collar crime, and then typically only if you caused at least that much in actual damages.

Pirating a copyrighted work causes no economic damage whatsoever if you never intended to buy the piece in the first place had you not been able to pirate it...

And 5 years in jail, that's a bigger punishment for everybody else than the person jailed, considering the costs of locking up what's going to amount to thousands of non-violent offenders (counting low, if this law is going to be taken seriously by the prosecutors) every year for half a decade. Jesus freakin' christ, as if US budget deficit problems aren't big enough already? Lol.


RE: Time to get real
By Beenthere on 6/19/11, Rating: -1
RE: Time to get real
By Untold1 on 6/19/2011 1:07:32 PM , Rating: 2
How about you just charge the price of 2 adults and ..2 kids the price of going to watch a movie. Tickets are say $48 ($12 a ticket). 4 bags of popcorn $20. 4 drinks $12. How about $80 and a warning. I mean I didn't complain about all those crappy movies I and my family have seen all throughout the years.. Did I.


RE: Time to get real
By Beenthere on 6/19/2011 3:39:50 PM , Rating: 1
Apparently some folks missed the entire point... piracy, hacking, illegal distribution of copyright protected works are all crimes under existing laws. When you commit a crime you are punished because you are an idiot. Since pirates tend to be braindead, they need a little more "motivation" and that's where the felony conviction, 5 years in the slammer and $10K per copy come in. They'll eventually buy a clue or spend their worthless life in prison.


RE: Time to get real
By Jalek on 6/19/2011 5:06:56 PM , Rating: 1
If they could, you know these people would jail Netflix subscribers. $8 a month for streaming movies worth $10k per viewing? I'm sure that pisses them off.

I think most studios today would prefer nobody viewed their IP, so I say let them keep it to themselves.


RE: Time to get real
By Invane on 6/20/2011 2:30:03 PM , Rating: 2
You are fantastically ignorant. How about we go after those brain dead jaywalkers next? They keep doing that damn jaywalking thing despite it CLEARLY being against the law. We need to make jaywalking a felony with a minimum of a 5 year prison sentence...that would definitely fix the issue.

Are you really that dim? If there are enough people committing a crime then there's something wrong with the system. In this case, the system is being used to prop up a limp and failing business model to the detriment of the consumers involved.

If you continue to support draconic and poorly thought out legislation like this, at some point they will implement some law that will personally impact YOU. And at that point, you will understand far better why laws like this need to be opposed.

And for the record, I am not a pirate. I oppose piracy and I don't like the mindset involved. But I do understand why it's occurring and I also firmly believe it's a systemic issue with a deeper solution than to hit the offender with more and more jail time and fines.


RE: Time to get real
By superstition on 6/20/2011 12:04:39 AM , Rating: 2
"Punishment is meant to be a deterrent. If it takes electric shock to the testicles, pulled fingernails, and random familial executions to get thru to these ZOMBIES then that's what the punishment should be. Just the fact that some folks think it's too harsh is a good indication it would be more effective than the current slap on the wrist that isn't a deterrent to the braindead (zombie) pirates. They make prisons and torture for people in denial.

Putting these SCUMBAGS in prison is a win-win deal for society and the U.S."

Fascinating.


"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates














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