Let's face it. We all expect Justin Bieber to go to prison for some reason down the road, because almost every child who experiences success at such an early age tends to find trouble. Former child stars single-handedly created the E! Network back in the 90s, at least that's my perception. The online world braces for the potential ramifications of Bill S.978, also known as the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, as its introduction to Congress nears. It would make streaming copyrighted material a felony with the possibility of 5 years in prison. Those who have scoured the potential law's language believe that this means people on YouTube who even sing a copyrighted song, or has Finding Nemo playing in the background during a "man slips and falls in the kitchen" video, is up for serious jail time. That includes Justin Bieber.
Justin Bieber Is Probably Not Going to Jail...For What He Did
Here's how Open Congress sums up Bill S.978, which sounds like a band from 1999:
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.
Justin Bieber is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) success story from YouTube, as he was captured singing Chris Brown songs, including this cover of "With You" that went on to viral YouTube lore:
There is, of course, no way Justin Bieber is going to jail for this. This is just the angle that is being thrown around, an interesting topic to discuss as this bill gets closer to being sent to Congress. Those who are familiar with copyrights believe that this will be strictly for those who put the original material out there for free streaming, but the other side believes that the letter of the law will be used for every instance someone even evokes or covers a copyrighted work. That's going to put an end to my life-long plan to read James Joyce's Ulysses aloud on YouTube in 177 parts. And it might make people who upload any kind of video game movies to Machinima think twice.
I think we pretty much believe it's fair for owners of copyrights to want to protect their original material from being shown for free or profited from by other individuals who had nothing to do with that material. But that's where the language of the bill needs to be tailored to fit that description. If experts believe the "letter of the law" are these specific instances, it needs to be clear in the language. When a law is open for interpretation, that means that different people will understand the law differently from others. Sure, Bieber would probably be safe, but maybe your next door neighbor isn't. You can best believe every defense lawyer in the country will be using "The Bieber Defense" if Average Joe gets sent to prison for streaming his brilliant singing of Scorpions in the shower, but Bieber just gets to keep on being not in jail for his Chris Brown covers.
Or, defense attorneys can use "The Chewbacca Defense" (warning - some bad language):
If You Believe Bill S.978 Will Imprison Justin Bieber, Be Proactive
Fight For The Future has already started the "Free Bieber" campaign, complete with photoshopped pictures of Bieber in jail. They are clearly against the bill, and are hoping enough people sign a petition to bring it to the attention of politicians that this is the kind of ridiculous nonsense that people won't stand for. So, those of us who truly believe that this bill stands for the most petty of copyright interpretation must make their voices heard.
Another site against the potential bill is DemandProgress.org, which has over 500,000 signatures in its petition to stop the potential passing.
And I for one am against anything that can be misinterpreted, or strictly enforced to include things that every sane person knows is harmless. If this bill gets passed, regardless of how strictly it is enforced, well, that can do nothing but have a tremendous effect on what we decide to upload in the future.