S.978 Could Put Bieber in JailOctober 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw
If there’s one bill in Congress that pits people of all political stripes against big corporations and the politicians they fund, S.978 is it. The bill would make web streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a prison sentence of up to 5 years. That means you could go to jail for posting a video to YouTube with the wrong background music, all in the name of protecting big media companies that don’t want to update their old business models for the age of peer-to-peer sharing.
Fight for the Future, a new organization from some of the folks who helped built OpenCongress, are launching today with a pretty hilarious, but also very serious, take on the bill. As they explain, if this bill is enacted even big-label pop stars who launched their careers doing covers, like Justin Bieber, could face jail time. From their press release:
Music and film companies are pushing a law that would make streaming any copyrighted material a felony with a five-year jail sentence. The irony is, if they succeed, even their own stars would face jail time.
Teen pop star Justin Bieber himself got famous posting videos of himself singing unauthorized covers of popular R&B songs to YouTube. Totally jail-able. The law is S.978, and it’s a real threat: The bill has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we expect introduction in the House soon.
Of course, if Bieber could go to jail, almost any aspiring singer could too. So could any fan singing or dancing along with their favorite song, or posting a video of a performance (say, a kids’ school play), as long as it got enough views and brought some measurable benefit to the person posting.
We’ve already seen the music and movie companies use civil penalties written for large-scale commercial piracy to sue 14-year-olds and their families into bankruptcy, so the idea of this one day being used to jail ordinary users is hardly far-fetched.
Thing is, this isn’t some fringe bill with no chance of passing. It has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, word in the intellectual-property scene is that a companion version is about to be introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith [R, TX-21], the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House. Add to that the millions of dollars that corporate backers of the bill are donating to Congress and it becomes even easier to imagine this thing being pushed through.
Fight for the future is collecting signatures on a petition to Congress in opposition to this bills. Of course you can also use the OpenCongress Contact-Congress platform to email your members of Congress about it.
Full disclosure: I am on the Board of Directors for Fight for the Future and members of Participatory Politics Foundations’ Board of Directors are involved with Fight for the Future.