Do The Authors Of The Felony Streaming Bills Even Know What The Details Of Their Own Bills Mean?

from the doesn't-sound-like-it dept

After Justin Bieber himself pointed out how silly the various bills in both the Senate and the House (S.978 and SOPA, respectively) concerning making streaming a felony were, the office of the key sponsor behind S.978, Senator Amy Klobuchar's, insisted that Justin Bieber didn't understand the bill. We've been hearing the same thing from a few others, who insist that, at best, the streaming felony bill might make a service provider liable for felony charges, but would not impact an uploader such as Justin Bieber.

After looking over the details, I'm not convinced that's true -- and neither are the folks at Fight for the Future, and some of their legal experts. They've now put up a site called, highlighting the legal problems, and how it appears that Klobuchar and the supporters of SOPA don't even understand their own bills. Part of the claim is that it's only the service provider who would be responsible for the "performance," but that's not supported by the case law. Hell, it's not even supported by Klobuchar's own co-sponsor, Senator Chris Coons, who admitted that it wouldn't just criminalize service providers, but "individuals and sites providing the streamed content."

But the bigger issue highlighted by the site is that there is caselaw showing that "a transmission that ultimately results in a performance to the public is, itself, a public performance." That would suggest that merely uploading to a site that then allows a performance to the public could certainly be interpreted as a public performance. Furthermore, in the case of Bieber, the problem is not that he merely uploaded the videos. I agree that for people who merely upload videos of other people's work, this might not apply. But Bieber clearly was performing the works of others in his videos. The uploading isn't the issue. The performance in the video then combined with the public performance of the infringing video seems like it could easily fall under the law.

Yes, this is a question of interpretations of the law, and a large part of the problem is that the text as Klobuchar and (on the House side) Lamar Smith have put forward, doesn't carefully distinguish, meaning that no matter how many times they insist the law won't apply to people like Justin Bieber, we really won't know that for sure until the courts weigh in -- and the ambiguity, especially given the existing case law, means it's no sure thing. One hopes that the court would give weight to the statements of Klobuchar's staff, but there's no guarantee that they will. Besides, any law that is going to require hunting down the press quotes from staffers to prove that it doesn't mean what it seems to say on its face is, without a doubt, a bad and dangerous law.

So why is Klobuchar so focused on getting it passed?

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    RyanRadia (profile), 31 Oct 2011 @ 10:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Masnick vs. Masnick and friends

    It appears that Bieber may well have willfully uploaded videos to YouTube depicting his unauthorized recitations of copyrighted musical works. Bieber's uploads directly and at his behest resulted in tens of millions of streams (public performances) of these unauthorized videos, violating performance rights. Ergo, he may be criminally liable under H.R. 3261 § 201, if prosecutors could show the preceding elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Capiche?

    As for your second point, care to cite any authorities? I am aware of no cases in which 512(c)-compliant OSPs have been found liable for violating the performance right on account of their users' infringing activities. Moreover, several federal courts have explicitly held that 512(c) covers not only storage but also streaming. See, e.g., UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Veoh Networks, Inc., 620 F. Supp. 2d 1081, 1083 (C.D. Cal. 2008):
    UMG contends that Veoh does not qualify for § 512(c) immunity because of four functions performed by Veoh's software which are allegedly not “storage” and are not undertaken “at the direction of a user.” The Veoh software functions [include] . . . allowing users to access uploaded videos via a technology called “streaming” . . . [T]he Court holds that the four software functions at issue do fall within the scope of the § 512(c) safe harbor because they are undertaken “by reason of the storage at the direction of a user.”
    It's true that YouTube pays royalties to some rights holders, but that's part of a voluntary agreement it reached with rights holders. YouTube does lots of things voluntarily because it wants to maximize ad revenue. Working with, rather than against, rights holders helps YouTube by reducing the likelihood that popular videos will be abruptly removed. However, that does not mean YouTube would be subject to liability for videos of Bieber's covers if YouTube had no mechanical licenses (assuming, of course, it satisfied the 512(c) safe harbor requirements, etc.).

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.