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S.978 Jail time for Streaming

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It’s been three years since Justin Bieber, a Canadian pop and R&B singer/songwriter, released a YouTube video that sparked his music career. In the next year, 2009, his debut single “One Time” peaked top ten in Canada. Since then, he’s released seven songs to hit the Billboard Hot 100. No matter how far up the ladder he goes, Beliebers still remember the YouTube video that started it all.

The “Free Bieber Campaign” aims at using the humorous site and its bid for petitions to protest the bill. (Courtesy of cbsnews.com)

Under current copyright law, uploading and downloading unlicensed material is prohibited. Aware of popular sources such as YouTube and Spotify that distribute content through streaming, the legistation is proposing Commercial Felony Streaming Act S. 978 to amend the criminal penalty provision for criminal infringement of a copyright, and for other purposes, which will include streaming.

Opencongress.org, a non-profit non-partisan online resource with information on congress, gives a concise summary of this bill.

Makes unauthorized web streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a possible penalty of up to 5 years in prison. Illegal streaming of copyrighted content is defined in the bill as an offense that “consists of 10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works” and has a total economic value, either to the copyright holder or the infringer, of at least $2,500.

If passed, reality for Bieber and other YouTubers who posted video covers of copyrighted songs could be quite complicated.

Using Bieber as a tool to spread awareness to this bill, the name given to efforts to stop this bill is “The Free Bieber Campaign.” Despite rumors, Mitch Glazier — senior executive vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America — believes that Bieber and other stars won’t be facing jailtime if this bill is passed.

A fundamental aspect of S.978 is that the willful infringement or criminal intent considers whether the user gains or seeks profit from the material and does not take the material down at the notice of a music publisher.

Similar to the Beyonce’s plagiarism lawsuit, this bill implicitly claims that even appropriate of popular culture is illegal. So what if someone gains a few dollars from singing a person’s song or doing a person’s dance? Wouldn’t it just empower the creator and exhibit the strength of their influence? Along as proper credit is given, are jail time and infringement fines really necessary?

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