Should streaming copyrighted material be a felony?

Should you go to jail for embedding a YouTube video that infringes on someone’s copyright?

TechDirt takes Sen. Amy Klobuchar and two other senators to task for proposing changes in the copyright law that make streaming copyright infringing material a felony.

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.

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.

In a news release earlier this year, Sen. Klobuchar said the target of her bill is large, offshore distributors of pirated content:

Many of these Websites are operated offshore by international organized crime operations and use the profits to fund other illegal activities. Klobuchar pointed out that the current laws haven’t kept up with technology, citing that it is currently a felony to sell counterfeit DVDs that together value over $2,500, but streaming those same movies over the Internet is only a misdemeanor.

A coalition of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Independent Film and Television Alliance and the National Association of Theater Owners endorsed Klobuchar’s bill.

  • Samuel

    This law is allegedly targeted at offshore sites, but if a web site is operated offshore, how are the operators liable under US laws?