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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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By bernardl on 6/18/2011 11:24:16 PM , Rating: 5
I am not sure why anyone would be surprised. The so called act of "bribery" closely related to the concept of "corruption", often cited by US official when reporting on the lack of democracy in other nations, is perfectly legal in the US.

Campains can legally be funded by companies, pressure groups or lobbie,... They typically fund all political parties. Easier to do in the US than in most other "democratic" countries since you only have 2 parties... oh... could it be the reason why there are only 2? :)

It should be fairly obvious that this system has clear consequences on the way the US works as a country. Those who do have money control the future of the nation through the passing of laws. I have always had a hard time understanding why this is called a "democracy", but I guess that if all American citizens, basing their judgement on the information collected from "democratic" media (like those controlled by the same corporations, read "Fox", "CNN",...) are happy about the way it works, who I am to complain. :)

Now, in the sake of fairness, corruption in the US is of public nature in that officials have to publish the type and scale of the donations. Hey, why hide it if it works even if you show it...

In essence, the way the US works is the following "behave the way the top 5% richest part of the population wants you to, or go to jail". This is further strenghtened by the impact of lawyers in courts and by the heavy usage of previous rulings... you just need to invest massively in a first type of case to win all the following ones covering similar types of situations. Obviously the richer will on average be heavily favored by this systeme also.

Some fun statistics:

- at every point in time, 1 in 33 adult in the US is either in jail or being monitored -> this means that if you gather 10 adults in a room in the US, you are pretty sure that at least one of them has done jail time at one point in their life,
- you are 9 times more likely to be in prison if you are a black man than if you are a white man,
- only 22% of these people are in jail because of violent crimes,
- the only country in history that got higher than the US is USSR at its worst during the Gulag years,


RE: Well...
By Dr of crap on 6/20/2011 10:46:31 AM , Rating: 2
Well said!

When politicians actaully do what their constituents want and not what their "party" or lobbists wants, then we will have a Democracy!

RE: Well...
By JediJeb on 6/20/2011 6:30:03 PM , Rating: 2
Simply read George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and you will see the perfect prediction of what is happening with our government today. The government is ever so slowly transforming itself from a Democratic Republic into a Democratic Dictatorship just as the USSR was or still is and China is, where elections are still held but only the chosen few will ever win( and not the ones chosen by the people)

If we want to maintain a government of the people, by the people, for the people, then we the people need to get off our backsides and educate ourselves in how the government works and all take an active part in running it.

RE: Well...
By YashBudini on 6/20/2011 9:58:39 PM , Rating: 2
Those who do have money control the future of the nation through the passing of laws.

Didn't you just describe every country in South America as well? Not that Europe is a lot different.

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