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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 Chilly8 on 6/21/2011 12:50:12 AM , Rating: 2
Even if the government does go after the all viewers, do you really think they are going to go after 100,000 plus viewers for, say a PPV fight.

During the Paqauaio-De La Hoya fight a few years ago, there were several Justin and Ustream channels with 100,000 plus viewers on each of them. One channel alone had 123,000 people on it, at peak viwership, that night.

Do you really think the government is going to waste its time going after as many as 1 million people watching the fight illegally, given all the channels with 100,000 plus viewers that were streaming the fight, there were very likely one million people at any one time watching illegal streams of the fight card.

The prisons are so overcrowded now, where would they put hundreds of thousands, or even millions more inmates? The government already has a deficit crisis with the national debt skyrocketing. The government would not have enough money to prosecute that many people watching a PPV fight.

If a given channel has thousands of viewers, the government is not going to go chasing them all down. Some Justin movie channels often exceed 1,000 viewers, which locks offshore viewers out (Justin requires foreign viewers to pay a fee if the total number of viewers on any one channel exceeds 1,000 viewers).

If they went after every viewer of these channels, the prosecutors would be prosecuting those cases, and nothing else.

That is why those who do not stream for commercial purposes, and just watch videos, do not have to worry, for now, unless they do something really stupid, like show a movie before its release date on video. The government is so effed up financially right now, that it does not have the resources to go after every one of the thousands of viewers that might be watching one stream.

That is why Klobuchar specifically worte her bill so that only those who stream for commercial gain are subject to prosecution. Otherwise the courts would get so clogged with piracy cases, they would not be able to handle anything else.


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