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Senators Want To Put People In Jail For Embedding YouTube Videos


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Senators Want To Put People In Jail For Embedding YouTube Videos

from the not-understanding-the-technology dept

by Mike Masnicki

Wed, Jun 1st 2011

Okay, this is just getting ridiculous. A few weeks back, we noted that Senators Amy Klobuchar, John Cornyn and Christopher Coons had proposed a new bill that was designed to make "streaming" infringing material a felony. At the time, the actual text of the bill wasn't available, but we assumed, naturally, that it would just extend "public performance" rights to section 506a of the Copyright Act.

Supporters of this bill claim that all it's really doing is harmonizing US copyright law's civil and criminal sections. After all, the rights afforded under copyright law in civil cases cover a list of rights: reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works or perform the work. The rules for criminal infringement only cover reproducing and distributing -- but not performing. So, supporters claim, all this does is "harmonize" copyright law and bring the criminal side into line with the civil side by adding "performance rights" to the list of things.

If only it were that simple. But, of course, it's not. First of all, despite claims to the contrary, there's a damn good reason why Congress did not include performance rights as a criminal/felony issue: because who would have thought that it would be a criminal act to perform a work without permission? It could be infringing, but that can be covered by a fine. When we suddenly criminalize a performance, that raises all sorts of questionable issues.

Furthermore, as we suspected, in the full text of the bill, "performance" is not clearly defined. This is the really troubling part. Everyone keeps insisting that this is targeted towards "streaming" websites, but is streaming a "performance"? If so, how does embedding play into this? Is the site that hosts the content guilty of performing? What about the site that merely linked to and/or embedded the video (linking and embedding are technically effectively the same thing). Without clear definitions, we run into problems pretty quickly.

And it gets worse. Because rather than just (pointlessly) adding "performance" to the list, the bill tries to also define what constitutes a potential felony crime in these circumstances:

the offense consists of 10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works

So yeah. If you embed a YouTube video that turns out to be infringing, and more than 10 people view it because of your link... you could be facing five years in jail. This is, of course, ridiculous, and suggests (yet again) politicians who are regulating a technology they simply do not understand. Should it really be a criminal act to embed a YouTube video, even if you don't know it was infringing...? This could create a massive chilling effect to the very useful service YouTube provides in letting people embed videos.

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"Time is too slow for those who wait; too swift for those who fear;

too long for  those who grieve; too short for those who rejoice.

But for those who love, time is eternity."

(Jane Fellowes)

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