Wednesday, July 6, 2011

S. 978: The Crime of Streaming

Over the past few months, YouTube, through videos such as this one has been aflame over US Senate Bill S. 978, which amends Section 2319 of Title 18 of the United States Code. It effectively criminalizes the online streaming of videos. It criminalizes, among others, the act of holding "10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works;" which, its opponents maintain, effectively punishes the posting of copyrighted materials and videos on on line streaming sites. One can see where the problem is--indeed it's not everyday one comes across a Youtube video that contains some excerpt of a copyrighted material and that hasn't had at least ten hits in a day.

To the bill's opponents, the issue is what does this mean for legitimate "fair use" of materials for purposes of criticism, comment, etc. There are numerous websites (warning: the videos in these sites are NSFW) which showcase videos by independent internet film critics--videos which make heavy use of video clips from the original, reviewed source material. The bill's opponent are fearful of the prior restraint on their right to express their opinions on films, as a result of the passage of the bill.
They also decry that by making online streaming a felony, they are put at the mercy of the US Criminal Justice system, whose principal interest is not the determination of whether or not internet streaming may constitute fair use, but lies in putting offenders in jail, regardless of the soundness of the criminal statute.

To this blogger, the true test of the soundness of this bill is if it actually promotes the development of "sciences and useful arts" without abridging free speech as enshrined in the US Constitution. And that will only become evident after it is passed into law and we've all seen how it is applied. Until then, let's wait with bated breath. in the meantime, you can read the bill here for your own enrichment.

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