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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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This bill, it does nothing!
By FastEddieLB on 6/19/2011 12:25:55 AM , Rating: 2
This bill does nothing. People who illegally stream copyrighted content don't do it for profit, they do it for free and for the love of the content they illegally stream. What does this bill do to them? Pretty much nothing, because you have to prove that they had the intent to profit from it, which is hard to do when you're not charging people any kind of fee to view the content.




RE: This bill, it does nothing!
By Chilly8 on 6/19/2011 7:58:21 AM , Rating: 2
That could change under the Trans Pacific Partnership now being negotiated and expected to be completed and signed by Novemeber, which would require signatory nations to make non-commerical streaming illegal.

Basically, they are trying to insert things into TPP there were not in ACTA. The agreement is expected to be finalised and signed in November. And they could go through easier, becuase most of the countires, other than Australia, NZ, and the USA, are dictatorships of some kind of other.

While the Commercial Felony Streaming Act only targets those who broadcast, and do it for profit, despite all the hysteria, Congress could be forced to amend the law later on to change that, depending on what is in the Trans Pacific Partnership

Given the timeline of when the agreement is to be finalised and signed, I would not expect such an amenendment to specifically include viewers and non-commercial streamers until after the 2012 Elections.

Congress will have a lot more important issues to deal with than amending the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, to make it comply with the Trans Pacific Partneeship, so I would not expect those amedments to be made, if the agreement should require such amendments, until 2013 at the very earliest. There are the politcal conventions as well as the the fact that it is a presidential election year, so Congress pretty much has to wrap things up by July of next year. This includes two more budgets, 2011-12 and 2012-13 that will certainly be long drawn out battles, among other things. It is becuase of this that Congress have time for things like amending the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, once it is passed.

And at least one staunch supporter of the Comemercial Felony Streaming Act may or may not return to the Senate after next year. Dianne Feinstein is undecided at this time whether she will run for another term.

Or Feinstein could be defeated be someone who understands tech much better. Carly Fiorina plans to run for the Senate in 2012. She would not likely be as supportive of such amaendments as Feinstein would be, since she comes from the tech industry.


By superstition on 6/19/2011 11:53:19 PM , Rating: 2
"Carly Fiorina plans to run for the Senate in 2012. She would not likely be as supportive of such amaendments as Feinstein would be, since she comes from the tech industry."

Oh sure. Just like Sonny Bono wasn't for draconian copyright extension because he was from the entertainment industry.


RE: This bill, it does nothing!
By FaceMaster on 6/19/2011 12:33:14 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
People who illegally stream copyrighted content don't do it for profit, they do it for free and for the love of the content they illegally stream.


Yes! Everything in the world should be free. I can't believe they actually try to CHARGE us for entertainment. /sarcasm


RE: This bill, it does nothing!
By Untold1 on 6/19/2011 1:12:30 PM , Rating: 2
Well damn they are paying the politicians for it!


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