Bill S. 978 would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison. Specifically, it would incriminate those who disseminate ("publicly perform" in the language of the bill) copyrighted material ten or more times in a 180 day span. There's some (understandable) hysteria surrounding this bill at the moment, so in an effort to help you cut through the subparagraphs and subsections, we thought we'd give you a user-friendly guide to understanding the bill, tracking its progress and, if you're so inclined, alerting your Congressperson.
What the bill would do. Technically it's not a new proposed law entirely but rather an amendement of the old one. Where before, it was technically illegal to "reproduce and distribute" copyrighted performance, the new amendment would widen the umbrella to include all forms of "public performance" of a copyrighted work. The simple way to think about this is that before, bit torrents and the like were clearly illegal. If this bill passes, YouTube would be as well. And it wouldn't just be YouTube -- if you merely embed a copyrighted video without gaining proper consent, that falls under the definition of public performance as well. It's more: kids singing karaoke to their favorite pop songs would be culpable. There is a caveat that hasn't been as widely discussed: The amendment also includes language stipulating that the public performance ALSO have a total value to the copyright owner of $2,500 or have a license value over $5,000.
The problem there, of course, is that the value of an online video is totally speculative at this point: You can find objectivity in return on advertising on the video or music, but value to the copyright owner is a very different matter. How much, exactly, is an .mp3 worth? There's clearly no one answer.
So this seems bad. The one thing to keep in mind here is that this is almost certainly never going to affect anyone but people trying to make a living expressly by streaming illegal content (pirates). The precedent for this sort of thing (inasmuch as there is one) suggests that regular internet users like you and me would never catch a whiff of attention for our public performance ways, even if we strike it big with a bedroom cover song. But we'd still technically be breaking the law (committing a felony, even), which we admit cannot be totally shooed away just because the cops probably wouldn't show up.
How to track its progress Pretty simple, really: Govtrack monitors these sorts of things with handy-dandy checked boxes and the like. The S. 978 page reveals that the thing has been most recently referred to committee -- there's still a long, highly unlikely road ahead.
Get involved Go here to send a letter to your Congressperson if you find this thing offensive and/or dangerous. If you support the bill, we suggest you change the text in that pre-filled body section to the words "S. 978: THUMBS UP." We're sure Demand Progress Dot Org would be thrilled with that.
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