Internet giants oppose bill that could make posting online videos a crime

by Jack Minor –

Two bills in Congress have sparked a fierce backlash after critics say it could make it a felony for parents to post a video of their children singing a copyrighted song.

The House sponsored Stop Online Piracy Act, and the Commercial Felony Streaming Act in the Senate, would give the government authority to shut down any web site accused of pirating or counterfeiting content.

The bill is strongly supported by groups interested in protecting intellectual property such as the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. chamber of Commerce and other media organizations.

The Chamber of Commerce estimates that Hollywood studios, publishing houses and record labels lose over $135 billion a year in revenues from piracy and counterfeiting. They say the bill is needed to prevent web sites from aiding in online piracy.

However, critics say the legislation’s language goes too far and makes even something as simple as a parent posting a YouTube video of their child singing a copyrighted song, or simply having copyrighted music in the background a felony.

The debate over the legislation has caused division with web giants Facebook, ebay, Mozilla, Yahoo, Google and LinkedIn writing a letter to lawmakers in both houses opposing the measure.

The letter says  concerns are, that, “The bills, as drafted, would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new and uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites.”

It went on to say, “We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation,, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.”

Singer, Justin Bieber, has also come out strongly against the bill. Bieber became famous by singing copyrighted songs and posting videos of himself online.

Appearing on Washington D.C. Hot 99.5 FM, Bieber said Sen. Amy Klobuchar should be led away in handcuffs for her sponsorship of the bill. “She needs to know that I’m saying she needs to be locked up — put away in cuffs.”  He added, “People need to have the freedom…people need to be able to sing songs. I just think that’s ridiculous.”

When asked how he felt about people posting videos singing his songs, he said, “Are you kidding me?  I check YouTube all the time and watch people singing my songs.  I think it’s awesome.” Bieber has even posted a website addressing his concerns over the bill.

Klobuchar’s office said, “Justin Bieber may have been misled about the content of this bill. The bill only covers intentional commercial theft of things like books, music, and movies.”

However, critics say the bill’s language is such that it could indeed include non-commercial streaming.

Attorney Jonathan Band, with policybandwidth.com, says, “Unless an individual has a good faith reasonable belief that his streaming is lawful, he arguably is willfully infringing, and is subject to felony penalties, even if he had no commercial purpose.”

Lateef Mtima,  Director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice at the Howard University School of Law, says, “Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the bill is that the conduct it would criminalize is so poorly defined. While on its face the bill seems to attempt to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial conduct, purportedly criminalizing the former and permitting the latter, in actuality the bill not only fails to accomplish this but, because of its lack of concrete definitions, it potentially  criminalizes conduct that is currently permitted under the law.”

Mtima continued, “The Senate version requires that a video has more than ‘10 performances’, which legal experts say is equivalent to ‘views’.  In the House version, only 1 view is required.  In the House version, the market value of licensing the work only needs to be $1,000 (a merely nominal licensing fee for any popular music) or greater to qualify as a criminal offense.”

The bill would also enable the government to seize a company’s domain name and order Internet Service Providers to  block a particular site’s web traffic based on a mere infringement claim.

Kim Smith, spokesman for Rep. Lamar Smith, sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act, took issue with those who say it would make singing a copyrighted song illegal.

“This bill does not make it a felony for a person to post a video on YouTube of their children singing to a copyrighted song.  The bill specifically targets websites dedicated to illegal or infringing activity.  Sites that host user content–like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter–have nothing to be concerned about under this legislation,” Smith said.


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