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“Cut The Live Feed!”: Online Streaming May Soon Become A Felony

Hello again and welcome back to another Sunday Morning Coming Down. This week’s missive comes from a strange place and may not seemingly affect the music industry. But then, upon further examination (an SMCD specialty), it very well could.

Introducing Senate bill S. 978

Courtesy of the video game tournament site Shoryuken.com came an article they had stumbled upon from ArsTechnica. That article was a report that Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have introduced legislation that could, effectively, turn streaming unauthorized online content into a felony.

Senator Amy KlobucharAccording to the ArsTechnica article, the exact wording of the bill – known for now as S. 978 – was not available but they did have a brief sent by Senator Klobuchar saying that, “under current law, ‘reproducing’ and ‘distributing’ copyrighted works are felony charges and cover P2P transfers and Web downloads. But streaming is a ‘public performance’ rather than a ‘distribution’—and holding a public performance without a proper license is not a felony. S. 978 adds ‘public performance’ to the felony list.

Online streamers can now face up to five years in prison and a fine in cases where:

They show 10 or more ‘public performances’ by electronic means in any 180-day period and:

The total retail value of those performances tops $2,500 or the cost of licensing such performances is greater than $5,000.”

Shoryuken.com picked up on the article because this could very well affect how video game tournaments, specifically the annual EVO Championship Series, would be covered online. Normally, several matches a year, most notably the semi-final and final matches of most any tournament held around the world, are streamed live online so followers of online sports and competitions can watch live as their favorite players vie for the title, as it were. They certainly have cause for concern, since game makers like Capcom and Midway could very well pull the plug on any live coverage of any tournament once this law goes into effect.

Movies and television? Of course this would affect them. The MPAA’s chief lobbyist (officially known as the Association’s “head of Government Affairs for the MPAA) has already lauded the introduction of the bill, saying that “criminals are stealing, trafficking, and profiting off the investment that our workers devote to creating the quality films and TV shows that entertain a worldwide audience and bolster the American economy. … We thank Senators Klobuchar and Cornyn for introducing this important legislation to standardize the legal treatment of online content theft and helping ensure that federal law keeps pace with the changing face of criminal activity.”

To rewind a bit, let’s get two things out of the way. First, I certainly consider video game tournaments a “sport.” If golf can have that distinction, then why not something else that takes about as much physical exertion and mental concentration? Second, of course the MPAA is going to be happy about this bill. They have a built-in excuse as to why film and television profits are down as well as a scapegoat to go after (in the form of file-sharers) that doesn’t require them to have to explain that the reason for those losses might very well have to do with the total unoriginality and regurgitation that happens in Hollywood.

Man, I feel better already. And now we can get down to how this affects music.

YouTube and Public Performance

When it comes to “public performances,” who else would you think of first rather than a musician on stage? And how many of those performances are readily available for online streaming? Search YouTube for just about any musical act and there’s bound to be live footage that can be seen by fans. And there’s a plethora of it out there. Enough to make a performer with a serious urge to control their image and intellectual property rich should they take action if this bill is passed.

A perfect example would be my favorite musician ever. Prince famously went on a campaign to have any footage of him online eradicated. The stories of the exchanges between him and YouTube are the stuff of quiet legend. Much of the mainstream sees that time about a dozen steps removed from how ridiculous it was for him to change his name to a symbol (which was actually done for a very shrewd and sane business reason). However, those who follow digital law and the online world recall the battles he fought. Given that he would have a law backing him up now, he could certainly go on that rampage again.

About Michael Melchor