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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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To reiterate...
By Motoman on 6/19/2011 10:41:31 AM , Rating: 5
1. Make lobbying illegal.
2. After it's been made illegal, put any lobbyists you find still operating in jail.
3. After it's been made illegal, when an organization/company funds a lobbyist, put their principals (board of directors, executives, etc.) in jail.
4. After it's been made illegal, put any elected officials in jail when you find them cooperating with a lobbyist.

In a while, sh!t will get straightened out. Making lobbying illegal is the one and only way to fix this issue. Won't fix all issues...but it will fix this one.




RE: To reiterate...
By superstition on 6/19/2011 11:57:38 PM , Rating: 3
The US Supreme Court just ruled in Citizens United that corporations are people that have 1st Amendment freedom of speech, which means they have unlimited spending power in elections.

It will take a constitutional amendment to thwart the court. Good luck with that!


RE: To reiterate...
By Motoman on 6/20/2011 12:45:29 AM , Rating: 3
Lobbying != free speech.

Lobbying = buying politicians.


RE: To reiterate...
By TSS on 6/20/2011 6:05:13 AM , Rating: 2
If corperations are people, the corperation commits a crime, then the corperation should be able to go to jail. Just send everybody from the CEO to the assembly workers to jail, lesser sentances for people in lower positions of course. But the CEO's will be going away for a long time.

If corperations have the rights of a person, they also have the responsibilities of a person. One is always tied to the other.

So the only difficult part is making it a crime to lobby. Where are you going to find the lobbyists to make that happen?


RE: To reiterate...
By Reclaimer77 on 6/20/2011 8:43:43 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Just send everybody from the CEO to the assembly workers to jail


Wow what is this, Communist Russia? Let's just throw everyone in jail, that will fix everything?

First off, it's never going to happen. Secondly, I would like to think we can come up with something less Draconian and more effective.


RE: To reiterate...
By Fost04mach on 6/21/2011 11:18:22 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Wow what is this, Communist Russia? Let's just throw everyone in jail, that will fix everything?


The beatings will continue until morale improves, comrade!


RE: To reiterate...
By Natch on 6/20/2011 1:36:10 PM , Rating: 2
Might be simpler to write a law limiting the amount of money a politician can spend on their re-election campaign.

Of course, then the lobbyists would simply pay them off with commercials paid for by "concerned citizens for the re-election of so-and-so". Which would likely also be protected by freedom of speech.

Shoot, might be easier to just have another revolution after all!! **SIGH**


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