Over the past few weeks, the wonkier neighborhoods of the internet have been buzzing about a new bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would make illegal streaming of copyrighted works a felony. Most of the bill’s critics worry that the amendments would allow the government to throw YouTube users, online video game tournament streamers and other seemingly minor infringers in jail. We at FMC feel that even though the bill would likely have less impact on musicians than it would on fans internet users in general, it’s important to describe what’s actually, you know, in the bill. Because not all of what you might hear is accurate.
First of all, it’s important to understand that illegally streaming copyrighted works is already a crime. The bill’s amendments just raise the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony in some cases. This actually brings the punishment for illegal streaming in line with other forms of infringement, including illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted works. Furthermore, the statute contains a series of elements that must be satisfied before felony status can be applied. For example, the government must prove that the infringement was committed “willfully.” It must also show that the activity was undertaken “for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain” and that the harm to the copyright owner meets or exceeds certain threshold economic value. Presumably, these elements will act as safeguards for fair users and minor infringers.
Of course, we couldn’t ignore all the criticisms out there, so we explored those too. For an in-depth analysis of what the bill would accomplish along with the possible pitfalls, check out our article on the topic. If you don’t want to get bogged down by the technical nuances of the bill, at least take our advice and don’t let the hysteria surrounding its amendments make you stop using YouTube. We need more funny kitty videos, not less!